Steamed Pork Spareibs In Black Bean Sauce

Snowy Palms Resort

As a young'un growing up in East Vancouver I was immersed in many different cultures. Our neighbours were Chinese, Indian (East and Indigenous), Italian, British  (you could tell them by their dental work, and they smelled like breakfast sausage, very odd really) Japanese, Portuguese, African and of course French, there's always a frigging French in the crowd isn't there? The ironic fact was the French were in my family. French Canadian. From Alberta! I couldn't escape them.

But it was the Chinese and Japanese friends and neighbours that were to make the largest culinary imprint on me given the great foods those nationalities produce and the fact I was involved in martial arts for a number of years which was populated by Japanese and Chinese interestingly enough expanded my experience as well. Go figure.

As a result of having many friends from those areas and in particular one family friend who was also a coach of mine who was Chinese, Bob was his name and sadly he passed away a couple of years ago now but his presence in my younger life was large and now permanently ingrained in my being. He is the reason many in the family are hopelessly addicted to foods from Asia.

Bob was a mans man, tough as nails and dangerously talented in a few disciplines of martial arts (not to be confused with marital arts, an entirely different sweaty pursuit) and he loved food. Chinese food in particular and it was with him as our guide that we ventured to the restaurants of Vancouver's Chinatown in the early and mid seventies on a gastronomic journey that defined what love of Chinese food is for this lo fung.

Bob would take us to restaurants where we were the lone westerners in attendance and knowing the owners or managers of the restaurants he would go into the kitchens and place his order with the chefs. We never knew what we were going to get, we only knew it would be different for us and taste fantastic. No deep fried chicken balls. No breaded shrimp. No egg foo yung. No Combo #5. It was heaven for a developing foodie and his family.

Back then as now, many westerners think good Chinese food is Combo #5, deep fried greasy breaded balls of who-the-hell-knows, sweet and sour sauce that is all sweet and no sour and cooked-to-death veggies served with copious amounts of MSG and not much else. Oh, and make it a smorgasbord and there you have the quintessential Chinese food offering many go gaga for. For me that food makes me gag and I gave up long ago trying to convert the nonconvertible, to get them to walk away from that awful “tourist food” and walk toward the light of skilled wok cookery where nary a deep fryer exists. It was and is the impossible, but I still try.

A the top of my Chinese food favourites is Dim Sum. Back in the early 70's there was only one restaurant in Vancouver that offered it and it was not a place many of us non Chinese would venture to for a Sunday brunch, but Bob took us there and showed us another element of food that was mind blowing. It was Nirvana! All the waitresses pushing carts laden with a myriad of different offerings, none of which I had ever tasted before and they would give them to me just by asking!!! Awesome, in a word. So as the little baskets of goodness were placed on the table we all went in for the attack with our chop sticks and with the first taste it was love at first bite for me (sounds like a Twilight saga huh?).

Shrimp. Pork. Beef. Chicken. Other seafood’s and veggies that were divine. Char siu bau which are steamed buns filled with barbeque pork. Har Gow - shrimp dumplings. Siu mai, - pork filled dumplings and the list goes on. At the top of the list, a crowded place I admit, is the steamed spareribs in black bean sauce. Placing a rib and some sauce on a little bit of rice is a delightful taste experience to say the least.

When I left Vancouver in my late teens I left dim sum behind. In the places I was to call home for 20 plus years there was no such thing as dim sum, so it became a ritual for me that I attend a dim sum when I went back to Vancouver at every opportunity. I took on the challenge that is making dim sum and discovered that making those items is really, really difficult, at least it was for me. But there were a few that I mastered and spareribs in black bean sauce was one. I haven't made them for a long time since living in Edmonton now there are a couple of great dim sum restaurants that serve it 7 days a week and it is easier to buy than make. Paradise! Well almost; It is Edmonton and not Grand Cayman after all.

Bob opened up a world of food for us that I still enjoy, no, idolize, to this very day. He was a great coach and a good man and every young guy should be allowed one Bob in his life , if only for a short while. The master taught the student a thing about pride and being strong even when your guts were trailing out an orifice behind you. Suck it up and get back in there! He also had a daughter I talked about once before, you know the one who I hope is living in a RV Park, in a bumper-pull trailer, in Surrey, living with the truck driver Bubba and her 12 kids from 13 different fathers. Ya that one. I'm so over her you know...

I had a hankering for some chow mein and some spareribs today for some reason and I didn't want to drive for dim sum, so I went to the market and bought the fixings to make a feast, and that I did. I will detail the spareribs to you in this posting and save the chow mein for a later date.

Steamed Spareribs With Black Bean Sauce

2 lbs pork spareribs, cut into 1” - 2” pieces (I like back ribs because they are more meat, less fat)

2 Tbsp black bean sauce

1 Tbsp rice wine, sherry or sake

2 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, cut into slivers

2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cooking oil
1 tsp sesame oil, pure
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp five spice powder (optional)

You will need a steamer that can fit the bowl or plate you will use to steam the ribs. Better yet head on down to the Asian market and buy a couple of bamboo steamers. They are damn handy for many things.

Yes I know the steaming basket is upside down!  On the pot the steamer fits great this way and I invert the top basket and used the lid from the pot to seal it. A MacGyver steaming ensemble...

Have the butcher cut the spareribs crosswise into 1" - 2" sections, many Asian markets or good supermarkets will have them pre-cut on the shelf, if not ask to cut them lengthwise. The you can cut them into individual pieces when you get ready to cook.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl or cup and mix well. Pour mixture over the ribs and toss to coat evenly. Place in fridge and let marinate for 4 hours, or even over night.

Transfer spareribs and remaining sauce into a shallow, heatproof pan that will fit inside your steamer, a pie plate works great.

Place steamer over a large pot of boiling water, cover with the lid and steam for 20 – 60 minutes (depends on the amount of steam your stove can generate and how many ribs and how spread out they are).

Check the ribs at 20 minutes and every 10 minutes after. I like to steam them longer to get them tender, but they need to be cooked through to the bone regardless. When no longer pink they are ready to eat, but may be too chewey, so steam them longer if you have the time.

Check water level every time you check the ribs to ensure the pot does not run dry, top up with a hot water from a kettle if required.

Serve with jasmine rice or whatever turns yer crank...

And I am sooooo over her. Really...