These Chinese spare ribs are cooked in the slow cooker but tasting them, you'd hardly know they are so easy. Tender meat, packed with flavor. Yes, you get a bit sticky but that's half he fun of ribs, right?
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I'll admit two things before I share this recipe. First, I have never made spare ribs of any kind before this and second, it's been a while since I made a recipe in the slow cooker.
I shared a few last year, including my slow cooker chicken mole and slow cooker short rib ragu but nothing this year. So far, that is. Anyway, this recipe was worth the wait and a great way with ribs.
Actually I should maybe admit that it has even been a while since I have had Chinese spare ribs at all, but these are every bit as good as I remember. In fact better, as they don't have food coloring. Many recipes for ribs require a smoker, which we don't have. Although in actual fact Chinese spare ribs are usually oven cooked.
With the heat we've had recently I wasn't up for a long oven cook, and there's enough flavor in these to not need a smoker anyway. The slow cooker was the perfect solution.
What makes Chinese spare ribs unique?
As I mentioned, it's the sauce that gives these ribs a ton of flavor and it's quite different from US barbecue flavors. Yes, it has that sweet savory combination, but here it's predominantly hoisin, soy and honey. They all get to work tenderizing the ribs as they cook, along with giving a great flavor.
I've largely based my version on this recipe but to me it had a fundamental flaw as it missed out Chinese five spice powder. In case you are not familiar, it's a blend that includes star anise, fennel and cinnamon. It's the flavor you might associate with a few Chinese dishes, especially Chinese barbecue like this. You can buy it ready-made but if you don't have it, you can easily make your own such as with this recipe that I used.
Often if you get these in a restaurant they will be a pinky-red color. These days, that's generally down to food coloring which I see no reason to add, but traditionally it's from a fermented bean curd (you can find more on this and other facts about Chinese char sui ribs in this article I found).
Making these ribs at home
You'll sometimes see Chinese spare ribs (or char sui) in whole racks in Chinatown. However, they seem to be more typically made ready chopped up at home, at least. That way you get the flavor in every part of them and saves cutting up after.
As I said they are really easy as you just cut up the ribs, put them in the slow cooker, mix up the sauce and pour it over. Mix them up a bit and leave them to cook. You can delay the start to let them marinade a bit but I think if you cook them on slow they have plenty of time to take on flavor.
Don't skip the last step!
The key with these, or any ribs in the slow cooker, is to finish them off under the broiler/grill. Lift the ribs out carefully and put them on a foil-covered baking sheet.
Reduce the sauce a little in a pan then pour some over the ribs and broil until gently sticky. You can use more of the leftover sauce to dip and it's also great over vegetable egg fried rice, as we had on the side.
Chinese spare ribs have so much flavor and make a great appetizer, maybe as part of a selection alongside spring rolls, sesame shrimp toast, pork and cabbage dumplings or other tasty goodies. You can also make them into a main, as we did, with for example fried rice on the side.
Tons of flavor, tender and completely moreish. You'll be wondering why you didn't make more.
Try these other slow cooker dishes:
Chinese spare ribs (slow cooker)
- 1.2 lb St Louis style pork ribs approx (545g) - ½ a rack (can also use other cuts, these are just probably best suited)
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- ½ tsp ginger grated/minced
- ½ tsp garlic grated/minced
- Cut the ribs between the bones to give individual ribs. Put the in a single layer in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Mix together the hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, rice wine, Chinese five spice, ginger and garlic. Pour on top of the ribs and turn them over a little to coat. You should have a thin layer of sauce over the top and a slight 'puddle' around the ribs (see photo above). Put the lid on and cook on low for 6-7 hours.
- After they are cooked and tender, but not falling off the bones too much, carefully remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place on a foil-lined baking sheet/tray. Pour the sauce into a small pan and simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Pour a little over the ribs and put under the broiler/grill for a couple minutes to caramelize. Serve with some more of the sauce on the side, if you like.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Plus get some more inspiration on using spare ribs (as we celebrated for FoodieExtravaganza this month):
- Canh Suon Khoai Tay (Vietnamese Spare Rib Soup) by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Pomegranate Braised Short Ribs by Food Lust People Love
- Singaporean Coffee Spare Ribs by Sneha's Recipe
- Slow Cooker Chinese Spare Ribs by A Day in the Life on the Farm
Sticky Pork Ribs by Palatable Pastime