As I am saying goodbye to the last days of summer (or saying hello to the first days of autumn), I crave more and more hearty dishes that are full of flavors. Since the weather is beginning to turn breezy and a bit cold, last week I made Adobo, the national Filipino dish introduced to me by my co-blogger Blessia. If you haven’t known about it yet, discover this delicious and easy recipe here and I’m sure you’ll be eager to try the dish as much as I was, and I’m addicted to it by the way. The sour zingy taste of Adobo makes me think of a similar Vietnamese dish that I will present to you today: sweet and sour pork ribs.
The first time I tasted this dish was when I came to visit a Southern Vietnamese friend and she cooked this dish for dinner. Needless to say that I immediately fell in love and have been trying to recreate the dish since then. This dish originates from Southern Vietnam because as you will see, we use sugar to create a sweet taste. For me nothing is better than a sweet and sour dish, perhaps it is only topped by sweet and sour and spicy dish. In this article I will add red chili and sriracha for that spicy boost, that wow moment that makes you breath out fire but can’t wait to dive in for more.
When it comes to the success of the dish, no taste can overwhelm another and should work well with the natural juicy taste of pork. In order to achieve the light sour taste which blends perfectly with sweetness from sugar, a special ingredient is used: tamarind paste. Tamarind is another sign that the dish is from Southern Vietnam as the people usually use it to create sour taste, either with fresh young tamarind or the paste made from ripe tamarind that is easily preserved.
I myself find using tamarind paste for this dish creates a bitter aftertaste, so I use apple cider vinegar instead. You can do this too if you can’t find tamarind paste. I recommend not to use white vinegar as the sour taste is too sharp for this delicate Vietnamese dish. For this dish you will need:
500gr pork ribs, chopped into small pieces
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or 1 cube of tamarind paste of about 10 gr
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of sriracha or 1 red chili (optional)
Black pepper (optional)
And that’s all, it’s a very simple dish.
If you use tamarind paste, you will need to soften it in order to make it into a sauce. Heat the water and put in the tamarind cube for about 3 minutes. The harden paste will soften so that you can use a spoon to blend the paste with water. When the paste is dissolved in water, use a food filter to remove the tamarind seed and meat chunks. The tamarind water that we get is now ready to be made into sauce by combining the rest of the ingredients apart from pork ribs.
If you skip the tamarind paste and use apple cider vinegar instead, just stir it in water and add in fish sauce, sugar with sriracha and/or black pepper.
Now for the pork ribs, some people like to first poach them in boiling water because they want to remove possible clumps released from the bones as well as the occasional strong pork meat smell.
If you like to do that, simply put pieces of pork ribs in a pot with generous amount of water to cover them and bring it to a boil. Let the water boil for 3 minutes and you will see the foaming chunks floating on the surface. Take the pot off the heat and remove water, keep only the pork ribs and clean them off of any sticky foaming chunks with fresh water. The purpose of this step is not to cook the pork so don’t worry if the pieces come out a bit pink and soft. Use paper towel to pat the pork dry.
If you skip the step above, it doesn’t matter, your dish will still be delicious.
Regardless if you boil the meat first or not, you need to fry pork ribs in order to help them absorb the sweet and sour sauce better. Now we don’t deep fry them but will only make a golden sear around the ribs' edges. Use only a small amount of oil, just like when you sautee vegetables. Sear each piece thoroughly in a pan on medium heat until the edges are golden brown then remove the excess oil, we don’t want the dish to look all fatty.
In that same pan, put all the seared pork ribs in along with the sauce that we prepared earlier and red chili if you want then let it simmer for about 20 minutes. The amount of sauce will reduce over time, the texture of it will become thick and the color will turn into dark honey, that's what we want. If the sauce becomes too thick too fast, you can add in water and taste again by adding more fish sauce or vinegar to your liking. When the pork meat is firm and easy to separate from the bone, it is done and we can dive right in.
Serve this dish when it’s still hot. It is meant to be eaten with rice and soup or sauteed vegetables. You know when this dish is getting on your taste bud when you marvel at how you can consume all that pork ribs in such a short time.
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!