Red Cooked (Hong Shao) Ribs

Red cook(ing) is a very common method in Chinese cooking in which protein is stewed in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and whatever else until it turns dark and incredibly tender. The combinations of ingredients and methods vary, but I cook it the way I’ve always been taught.

The method is not only delicious but firmly rooted in scientific reasoning.

The butcher had trouble following instructions so I ended up with massive ribs that I had to claw apart with my fingers. I like to make this stew with St. Louis style ribs, because I love munching on the softened cartilage. There’s also just enough fat to keep the meat tender and the guilt at bay.

The is the only recipe I can think of where you boil red meat as the first step. This is to get rid of all of the extra blood and crap that’s going to give it a strange flavor or grainy texture.

A few minutes of boiling will bring all the blood and gunk to the top. You can then dump the water and rinse off the ribs, so that you get a nice clean soup.

In goes cooking wine, ginger, and just enough water to cover the meat. This is simmered covered on low heat for 30 minutes while….

I watched TMZ. But my bf put together a nice soup to go with the red cooked ribs.

30 minutes into the cooking process, the meat is starting to tenderize, and it’s time to season. Some people might tell you to put the soy sauce in before this step, but according to my father, sodium ions make the meat tense up prematurely, and the flavor will not permeate. I believe him.

Now for the key ingredients: a few tablespoons of dark soy sauce and a piece of palm sugar. If you have rock sugar, you can add a couple of lumps. I strongly suggest using one of these sugars, because they taste different from your run-of-the-mill sugar. They have a brighter and fruitier sweetness than table sugar/brown sugar/etc. I also threw in 1 star anise to bring out the savory earthiness of the meat. I don’t like to add too many extras here, because the meat should be the star.

When the sauce is all mixed with the cooked meat, I added some coarsely chopped carrots. This is then simmered for another 20 minutes or pretty much however long you like as long as the carrots don’t turn to mush.

In the mean time, my bf’s beef noodle soup is finished and is filling the room with warmth and delicious aromas.

When the red cooked ribs are done, it will look reddish brown (go figure) like this. The sauce doesn’t have to be super thick. Super thick soy sauce and sugar stews are actually a different method by a different name.

I scooped out the well-seasoned ribs and carrots. The meat is falling off the bone!

As we savor the sweet and salty stewed meat and the soft cartilage of the ribs, the sauce is being used to make flavored eggs. It’s the circle of cooking fluids.

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