Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce (豉汁蒸排骨)

Learn how to make an authentic homestyle version of this classic dim sum dish

Prep Time
25 min
Total Time
45 min
Yields
4 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

I feel like my dad's makes steamed spare ribs (aka "pàaih gwāt" in Canto) for us at least once a month at home, and I can't even begin to imagine or count how many times he's made it over his career as a chef.

Steamed spare ribs is a classic dim sum dish, and actually one of the easier dim sum recipes to recreate for your loved ones at home.

Before we get into the recipe, you might enjoy these interesting tidbits about our beloved past time, dim sum, and our favorite dish.

Dim Sum: A Touch of Heart

The way most of us pronounce "dim sum" in English is very similar to its Cantonese pronunciation, "dím sām", which roughly translates to "a touch of heart".

It's a reference to the delectable snacks that 10th century teahouses would serve to traveling merchants in Guangzhou, one of the largest international ports along the Silk Road.

Even though dim sum is widely considered to belong to Cantonese cuisine, it evolved from a wide range of influences, largely because Guangzhou was and still is a critical hub for Chinese trade and a melting pot of different cultures. 

Why do we rinse spare ribs in water?

When dim sum restaurants serve spare ribs, their traditionally preferred look is much less light in color (vs the smoky, charred, dark look of a BBQ rib).

This is mostly an aesthetic choice, made to entice customers to order lots and lots of spare ribs from the carts of delicious foods.

The way to achieve this look is to rinse them in water for an extended period of time.

We talk about this in our video, but restaurants will use huge buckets or washing machines to rinse and dry large batches of spare ribs. Our friends over at Chinese Cooking Demystified have a great video on this.

Rinsing also helps wash away some of the taste of blood.

Be aware that the longer you rinse, you might be reducing the amount of available nutrients in your food (like iron).

Why are spare ribs red?

A common misconception is that the red juice that leaks out from meat is blood, but it’s not. Most of the time, the blood has already been drained by the time you buy it, and the red juice is actually a result of freezing the meat during transport. 

When you freeze meat, which is about 75% water, the water inside the muscles expands into ice crystals which rupture the muscle cells, and when the ice thaws, it carries some myoglobin with it.

Myoglobin is an iron-rich protein that turns bright red when it’s exposed to oxygen. The purpose of myoglobin is to store extra oxygen in muscles that are used for extended periods of time.

Interestingly enough, this is why not all meats are red or dark. Beef and pork meat are red because cows and pigs stand and roam almost all day. In contrast, fish meat is mostly white, with some red meat around the fins and tail, because fish float in water and aren’t constantly using the bulk of their muscles. 

Sources:

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
4
    Main Ingredients
  • 1 lb spare ribs
  • 1 tbsp dried fermented black bean
  • 1 tsp dried mandarin orange peel (

    optional

    )
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • red chili pepper (

    a few slices, optional

    )
  • 2 pieces green onion
  • Flavors + Misc
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 0.50 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 0.50 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch (

    for rinsing ribs

    )
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch (

    for marinade

    )
  • 0.50 tsp vegetable oil

Selecting Ribs

Some grocery stores have pre-cut ribs, cut across the bone.

If they don't sell pre-cut ribs, you can get St. Louis style ribs, and ask the butcher to cut across the bones for you. That will make your life much, much easier.

My dad says it's better to select ribs towards the tail-end of the pig, as these tend to be less fatty.

Key Ingredients

Just to highlight some key ingredients, spare ribs are usually made with "dauh sih" 豆豉, or black fermented soy beans. My dad’s recipe also calls for a dash of red chili peppers and a peel from his stash of dried mandarin orange skins, which are both optional but will give your spare ribs a unique zest.

On Fermented Black Beans

Black beans have been an important commodity in Chinese culture for thousands of years, dating back to at least the Han Dynasty when archaeologists found a huge stockpile of preserved beans in a noblewoman’s tomb.

It used to be a rare ingredient, but nowadays you can find them at most Asian grocery stores. If you don't have easy access to an Asian supermarket, here's the brand my dad uses on Amazon.

On Mandarin Orange Peels

Also known as "chenpi", this is a fragrant ingredient in Chinese cooking and medicine, believed to regulate our chi.

My dad uses these for a lot of dishes outside of steamed spare ribs - soups, steamed fish, medicines, and etc. He has a huge stockpile that he's been building for over 15 years.

According to my dad, the district of Xinhui in China makes the best damn peels the world has ever seen. This is their biggest export and a large economic driver for the famous district.

If you like eating mandarin oranges, you can just save the peels and leave them outside to dry in the sun for 2-3 days. They should snap in half pretty easily when dry. Store them in a bag in cool, dry place.

Finding Asian Ingredients

As we mentioned, some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

Other Supplies + Tools

You'll need a good wok, which provides a ton of versatility for the classic Chinese cooking methods: steaming, stir frying, deep frying, and etc.

You'll need a steamer rack to steam your spare ribs in the wok. These are generally inexpensive, ranging from $2-6.

You might want a food scale. It's not absolutely necessary for this recipe, but helpful if you want to get your proportions right.

Place our fermented black beans (1 tbsp) in a bowl, and rinse them under running water for 15-20 seconds. Gently massage the beans as you do this.

Drain the water, and set the bowl aside to let the beans rehydrate a bit as we prepare our other ingredients.

Break off a bit of the dried mandarin peel (1 tsp) and soak it in warm water for 5-10 minutes.

Cut the spare ribs (1 lb) between the bones into small pieces (about 1 to 1.5 inches), and place them into a bowl.

As we mentioned above, when selecting spare ribs, go for cuts that are less fatty (the tail-end ribs). If you can't find pre-cut ribs at your store, ask your butcher to cut them across the bone for you.

This step is done in 3 parts.

  • Cornstarch:
    • Add cornstarch (1 tbsp) to the ribs, and massage the ribs around to evenly mix the cornstarch around the surface of each rib.
    • The cornstarch helps bind to the myoglobin and juices that we're looking to cleanse out.
  • Rinse:
    • Rinse the ribs in running water for at least 1 to 2 minutes, massaging the ribs as you go.
  • Dry:
    • Pour out all of the water, and press and squeeze the ribs against a colander to get rid of excess water
    • Take a thick paper towel and wrap the ribs in it, pressing and patting to absorb moisture.

Before we start marinating, if you want to save time for later, start boiling 3-4 cups of water. This will be added to our wok when we start steaming.

Let's prepare our marinade:

  • Add salt (0.50 tsp), sugar (1 tsp), light soy sauce (0.50 tbsp), oyster sauce (1 tbsp), Shaoxing wine (0.50 tbsp) to a separate bowl.
  • Mince garlic (1 clove), ginger (1 tsp), rehydrated mandarin orange peel (1 tsp), and add them to the separate bowl.
    • While we're at it, cut a few slices of red chili pepper () and our green onion (2 pieces). These will be used as garnish for later.
  • Combine the bowl of flavors into the bowl of ribs. Mix and massage the bowl of ribs for 45-60 seconds to distribute all of the flavors.
  • Mince the black beans (1 tbsp), add to the bowl of ribs, and mix / massage the ribs for 20-30 seconds
  • Add sesame oil (1 tsp) and cornstarch (2 tbsp), and mix / massage the ribs around for another 60 seconds to evenly coat each rib with cornstarch.

Massaging the ribs, i.e. applying a little bit of pressure, helps the meat absorb the flavors and tenderizes the meat a bit.

We'll start heating our wok on our stove, placing our steamer rack in the center of the wok. Add enough boiled water so that it just barely covers the entire steamer rack.

Transfer the ribs into the plate you'll be steaming with, being careful not to let any ribs be covered by one another. This is to ensure that the ribs all cook evenly.

Add the chili pepper slices, and pour vegetable oil (0.50 tsp) on the ribs. This will give our ribs a nice and shiny shimmer when we're done.

Carefully place the plate of ribs on top of the steamer rack. Double check to make sure that there's a little bit of water touching the bottom surface of the plate.

Cover the wok, set the stove to its highest heat setting, and steam the spare ribs for 20 minutes.

Do you smell the deliciousness yet?

When the 20 minutes are up, we're done! Turn the heat off, uncover the wok, garnish with the green onions, and carefully remove the plate from the wok.

My dad isn't using any sort of gloves or mitts (what a boss!), but I would if I were you.

Call your loved ones over! Time to eat 🙌

Summary

Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce (豉汁蒸排骨)
Learn how to make an authentic homestyle version of this classic dim sum dish
  • Prep Time: 25 min
  • Total Time: 45 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
    Main Ingredients
  • 1 lb spare ribs
  • 1 tbsp dried fermented black bean
  • 1 tsp dried mandarin orange peel (

    optional

    )
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • red chili pepper (

    a few slices, optional

    )
  • 2 pieces green onion
  • Flavors + Misc
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 0.50 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 0.50 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch (

    for rinsing ribs

    )
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch (

    for marinade

    )
  • 0.50 tsp vegetable oil
Step 1 - Wash and rehydrate black beans, orange peel↑ Jump to details

Place our fermented black beans (1 tbsp) in a bowl, and rinse them under running water for 15-20 seconds. Gently massage the beans as you do this. Drain the water, and set the bowl aside to let the beans rehydrate.

Break off a bit of the dried mandarin peel (1 tsp) and soak it in warm water for 5-10 minutes.

Step 2 - Cut spare ribs↑ Jump to details

Cut the spare ribs (1 lb) between the bones into small pieces (about 1 to 1.5 inches), and place them into a bowl.

Step 3 - Rinse and dry ribs↑ Jump to details

This step is done in 3 parts.

  • Cornstarch:
    • Add cornstarch (1 tbsp) to the ribs, and massage the ribs around to evenly mix the cornstarch around the surface of each rib.
    • The cornstarch helps bind to the myoglobin and juices that we're looking to cleanse out.
  • Rinse:
    • Rinse the ribs in running water for 1 to 2 minutes, massaging the ribs as you go.
  • Dry:
    • Pour out all of the water, and press and squeeze the ribs against a colander to get rid of excess water
    • Take a thick paper towel and wrap the ribs in it, pressing and patting to absorb moisture.
Step 4 - Marinate ribs↑ Jump to details

Before we start marinating, if you want to save time for later, start boiling 3-4 cups of water. This will be added to our wok when we start steaming.

Let's prepare our marinade:

  • Add salt (0.50 tsp), sugar (1 tsp), light soy sauce (0.50 tbsp), oyster sauce (1 tbsp), Shaoxing wine (0.50 tbsp) to a separate bowl.
  • Mince garlic (1 clove), ginger (1 tsp), rehydrated mandarin orange peel (1 tsp), and add them to the separate bowl.
    • While we're at it, cut a few slices of red chili pepper () and our green onion (2 pieces). These will be used as garnish for later.
  • Combine the bowl of flavors into the bowl of ribs. Mix and massage the bowl of ribs for 45-60 seconds to distribute all of the flavors.
  • Mince the black beans (1 tbsp), add to the bowl of ribs, and mix / massage the ribs for 20-30 seconds
  • Add sesame oil (1 tsp) and cornstarch (2 tbsp), and mix / massage the ribs around for another 60 seconds to evenly coat each rib with cornstarch.

Massaging the ribs, i.e. applying a little bit of pressure, helps the meat absorb the flavors and tenderizes the meat a bit.

Step 5 - Prepare to steam ribs↑ Jump to details

Heat our wok on our stove, placing our steamer rack in the center of the wok. Add enough boiled water so that it just barely covers the entire steamer rack.

Transfer the ribs into the plate you'll be steaming with, being careful not to let any ribs be covered by one another. Add the chili pepper slices, and pour vegetable oil on the ribs.

Step 6 - Cover wok & steam ↑ Jump to details

Carefully place the plate of ribs on top of the steamer rack. Double check to make sure that there's a little bit of water touching the bottom surface of the plate.

Cover the wok, set the stove to its highest heat setting, and steam the spare ribs for 20 minutes.

Step 7 - Garnish & enjoy!↑ Jump to details

After 20 minutes, turn the heat off, uncover the wok, garnish with the green onions, and carefully remove the plate from the wok. Enjoy!

Step 8 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 9 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

Enjoy!

I have so many memories eating this dish growing up. In talking with my parents, it was really great to hear that they also had their own childhood memories eating this during holidays with their families too.

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this dish with your loved ones.

Also, I cordially invite you to eat with us and learn more about the dish, Chinese culture, and hang out with our adorable son. We get into a lot of detail about different marinating techniques, how this recipe differs from how dim sum restaurants make it, and more.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.

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About Made With Lau

We started Made With Lau to honor and share the legacy of our wonderful parents, Jenny and Chung Sun Lau.

Our hope is that these posts give you (and our future generations) a glimpse into how great they are!