Charles Phan's Black Bean-Glazed Pork Spareribs

[Photograph: Eric Wolfinger]



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The name "steamed ribs" may not be particularly appealing to many of you. Perhaps this fact is why Charles Phan left out the adjective when naming the Black Bean-Glazed Pork Spareribs in his cookbook, Vietnamese Home Cooking. But consider this: When cooked properly, steamed fish, dumplings, and vegetables take on a silky smooth and supple texture. Why not apply the technique to pork ribs? And when coated with a pungently addictive fermented black bean sauce, these rich spareribs turn from a curiosity to a dinnertime staple. (And if you're hosting a Super Bowl party, these would make for a pretty awesome addition to a game-day platter).

Why I picked this recipe: I've steamed fish and dumplings but never a meaty cut like pork ribs; this seemed like the perfect recipe to expand my steamer basket's repertoire.

What worked: As described in the recipe headnote, this technique indeed produces tender and moist meat with a potent and funky (in a good way) sauce.

What didn't: Keep a watchful eye on your steamer. My ribs needed just 25 minutes to cook through. I was able to fit a pie plate into my steamer basket (I only have a metal one), but it would have been impossible to lift it in and out of the pot when full of ribs and sauce. Instead I scooped out the dish with a ladle. (In other words, use your own judgement with your own particular steamer set-up.)

Suggested tweaks: The accompanying photo shows a garnish of sliced scallions (not in the recipe); their green color and grassy flavor enlivens the rich dish and are strongly recommended. If you can't find plain fermented black beans, you could use prepared black bean sauce. Read the label, though, and try to find one with fewer preservatives.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Vietnamese Home Cooking to give away this week.