Staying put at home during the corona virus pandemic can make you feel a bit stir crazy but it’s also an opportunity to try something fun and new

This week, I experimented with making super easy Chinese barbecued ribs. The idea came from grocery shopping and realizing that people had bought up a lot of chicken and ground beef. Pork wasn’t as popular. I’m prone to ‘pity purchasing’ and ended up buying a nearly four-pound slab of baby back ribs at Costco.

Looking for a simple and fun recipe that used pantry ingredients lingering in my fridge, I decided to apply a Joyce Chen Cookbook recipe to the ribs. Filled with unfussy information, the book was written in 1962, and I’ve made a great fried rice recipe from it.

The ribs were straightforward with a hoisin, wine, soy sauce and sugar marinade for an hour and a brief baking at moderate temperature. She cut the individual ribs from a pair of two-pound racks, seasoned them and roasted them over a bit of water. I imagine that she wanted a quick way to get flavor into the pork. She used spareribs, perhaps St. Louis style without the ribs tips.

Using tender baby back ribs meant I didn’t have to separate each one (I also feared them drying up in the oven). I kept the ribs intact, marinated the small racks for a couple hours and baked them off in the oven. After two tries, I came up with this recipe, a riff off of Joyce Chen’s. It uses a minimum of ingredients and with little effort, you have something fun to nibble on.
Flavorful Rib Tips
There’s a membrane (silverskin) on the back of a rack of ribs that when left intact, prevents the seasonings from penetrating on that side. I usually remove it myself but the rack from Costco only had lingering bits of the membrane. I simply pulled it off.

A brief marination for 1 hour at room temperature works for these ribs, but you can do a longer marination; if the room temperature is relatively cool, marinate for 1 1/2 hours and then set to baking them. You can safely keep raw meat at moderate room temperature for 2 hours. If you’re concerned, pop the ribs into the fridge and return them to room temperature before baking. They’ll be fine being chilled for up to 8 hours, too.

Additionally, roast the ribs on a rack, preferably one that sits on the rim of the baking sheet. That will facilitate good hot air circulation to mimic the kind of roasting that would be done in a Chinese barbecue shop where the racks would dangle from hooks as they cook. Joyce Chen suggests adding water to the baking pan but I found that was unnecessary.

The deal with the rack I used above is this: It is slightly bigger than a half sheet pan. I bought it from Amazon as a cooling rack but with my old baking sheet, the rack sits on top. I was bummed at first but it turns out to elevate the ribs just enough. A rack that elevates about 3/4 inch like this one would work well. I like to roast on non-grid racks to minimize clean-up.

You can finagle a similar set up by using a baking pan smaller than the rack. The first time I roasted the ribs, I used a small lasagna pan. It wasn’t ideal and I had to be careful moving the ribs around but it worked.
Marinade Substitutions
You don’t need much to marinate the ribs but I only had 2 1/2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce left in my jar. That was fine for the first batch, but on round 2, I finessed it. The recipe didn’t require much. I used Chinese bean sauce, which is an intense, salty version of hoisin. Chinese bean sauce, especially the one produced by Koon Chun, is made with few ingredients. (I’d scraped everything out of the hoisin jar for batch number one.)

The main difference between the two sauces is this: hoisin has lots of sugar and a touch of garlic. The bean sauce is thicker. To create hoisin, I mixed 2 tablespoons of bean sauce with 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and1 teaspoon water, and added garlic to the marinade. In a pinch, use low-sodium white miso instead of the bean sauce. Add a little extra soy sauce, if needed for a bold flavor.

If you do not have Shaoxing rice wine, use the default — pale dry sherry. If that’s unavailable, try sake! If sake isn’t around, use 1 1/2 teaspoons gin or vodka plus 1 1/2 teaspoons water.

Coconut sugar is something I’m into these days because its sweet flavor is rounder and more complex that regular brown sugar and white sugar. Because you need just a little here, regular cane sugar is fine.

So, go out and get yourself some baby back ribs and bake off something great. This is a fun, easy project that’ll delight. Order Chinese takeout to go with it, if you like. Or, make Joyce Chen’s Peking meat sauce (zha jiang mian) noodles to pair with the ribs. You’ll have a nice feast.
Print Easy Chinese Barbecued Ribs These are great as is but if you want sauce, serve with plum sauce or hot mustard. These are meant to be a snack. If you serve them as a main dish, a slab will serve 2 or 3 people. Servings 4 Ingredients 2 pounds (900g) slab pork baby back ribs 2 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry 1 small garlic clove, smashed 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar or coconut sugar 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder Instructions Pat the ribs dry with paper towel. Inspect the bone side of the slab to see if the tough membrane (silver skin) remains. If it does, remove it. Put the slab in a pan large enough for it to fit snuggly. In a bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, wine, garlic, sugar, and five spice powder. Coat the ribs with the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature 1 hour (or refrigerate up to 8 hours and return to room temperature). Heat the oven to 375F with a rack in the middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a rack inside. Place the ribs on the rack, reserving the marinade in a microwavable bowl or measuring cup. Bake the ribs for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the reserved marinade in a microwave oven for about 40 seconds (it will boil), then let cool to room temperature while the ribs cook. Brush the marinade on the ribs. Flip, then brush marinade on the bone side. Roast for 25 minutes, brush with marinade, then flip; the ribs are now meaty side up. Increase the heat to broil then bake the ribs for another 10 minutes, or until glazed, richly colored, and charred here and there. (If marinade remains, brush it on the meaty side at the 5-minute mark.) Let the ribs rest for 10 minutes before cutting between the bones and serving.

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