Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs

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This Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs dish is a mouth-watering appetizer and goes-great-with-cold-beer type of dish from China. Normally, the ribs are deep fried, but I wanted to cook a version that didn’t require me to waste 3 cups of cooking oil. If you do want to deep fry the ribs, Curiously Ravenous has a recipe from Ye Ye (Grandfather).

And I found the perfect recipe in fushia dunlop revolutionary-chinese-cookbookFushia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. When I first heard about Fushia Dunlop and how authentic and thorough her recipes were, I immediately bought this book and the fushia-dunlop-land-of-plentyLand of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. If you’re a fan of Chinese cooking, I definitely recommend both books. Ms. Dunlop has another book out which is a memior, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

About Dark Soy Sauce

dark-soy-sauceDark Soy Sauce is not regular soy sauce. it’s labeled Thick or Dark Soy Sauce and it’s more intense, sweeter and less salty than regular soy sauce as it contain molasses. Dark Soy Sauce is used in many Chinese braised dishes.

About Chinese Black Vinegar

black-vinegarChinese Black Vinegar is an essential ingredient that adds the “sour” to the Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs recipe. The best black vinegar is from the Chinkiang Province of China. My family loves to dribble the tiniest spoonful into my Mom’s Famous Crispy Egg Rolls (take a bite from one end of the egg roll, spoon a few drops inside.) You can substitute with balsamic vinegar.

About the ribs

I used baby back ribs, but any type of pork ribs are fine. The ribs are normally cut into 2-inch pieces, and it’s something that you’d much rather have a butcher do for you in their fancy machines than try to whack them with your chef’s knife. The smaller ribs are easier to cook and absorb the sauce. But if you only have the 3 to 4-inch baby back ribs – you can feel free to leave them uncut.

I cut about half of my ribs – each rib took like 3 big whacks. Finally, I was like “this is stupid. why am I risking my very expensive Shun Chef’s knives whackin’ bones?”

1) I couldn’t find my heavy duty Chinese cleaver
2) Huzb’s hack saw was all rusty
3) I think y’all would understand why there are several ribs in the pic that are abnormally long.

So I quit whackin’.

Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs Recipe (tang cu pai gu)

Adapted from fushia dunlop revolutionary-chinese-cookbookFushia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

serves 4

1 ½ pounds meaty spare ribs, cut into bite-size sections (baby back ribs preferred)
2-inch section of ginger, sliced into 1/2-inch “coins” and smashed
6 green onions, cut into 2-inch sections
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
generous pinch of salt
2 tablespoons high heat cooking oil
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 ½ tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Place the ribs in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim the water, then add half of the ginger, half of the green onions, the Chinese rice wine and salt. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes until the meat is cooked and tender. Continue skimming the pot. Strain and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid.

2. Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat until very hot. Pour in the cooking oil and add the remaining ginger slices and green onions. Stir fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the strained spare ribs and stir fry for 2 minutes in the fragrant oil.

3. Add 1 cup of the cooking liquid, the dark soy sauce and sugar. Simmer over a medium flame, spooning the liquid over the ribs, until the sauce has reduced to a heavy, syrupy consistency.

4. Add the vinegar and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the flavors have fused. Off the heat, stir in the sesame oil.

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Comments 40

  1. Dana McCauley

    This recipe sounds great and I really enjoyed your ingredient notes – I have a bottle of Chinese black vinegar in my cupboard that I’ve been reaching for but hesitating to use for months since I didn’t really know how it was to be used.

    One quick soap box moment though before I sign off: please, when you mention shark fin soup in any context can you please also mention that it is a recipe that should be filed away in the ‘used to’ file? Until cruel shark finning practices can be replaced by some other form of harvesting, I really hope that this dish becomes extinct.

    Thanks for letting me add my .02$ on this topic. For the .05$ version, you can follow this link to a post I wrote about shark finning’s devestating effects on the oceans:


    aya! you’re totally right. I’m taking it off the post. ~jaden

  2. CJ


    I’m one of your avid readers of your web blog and my question is – since I dont see any chinese black chinese vinegar in my area is there’s any substitute for that?

    Thanks so much…I tried most of your recipe and one of my favorite is your roasted chicken -its da’best!

    Substitute with balsamic vinegar! ~j

  3. Barry

    Man, that looks good! I bought Dark Soy Sauce for a recipe I did, like, 5 years ago. And yes, I haven’t used it since and I still have it. Is it still good?

  4. gmah

    A cooking friend of mine told me to use “Mushroom Soy Sauce” in recipes that call for “Dark Soy Sauce”. Are they the same thing? Thanks for your help.

  5. CARA

    These look great! I’m pretty sure I have everything on hand too! I am also an email subscriber! LOL. great recipe!

  6. Heather in SF

    You make it look so easy, and delicious! I love all things pork and would like to try this soon. Thanks fir posting and for the book recommendation.

    About your giveaway, please count me in fir the Spanish pod. I’m on your email list also. Hasta la mañana!

  7. Diana

    Love pai gu but never been good at cooking it. Bought the chinese vinegar but don’t know how to use that one. It’s the HK ones which is different from those from China that I’m used to. So now I have a reason to start using it. 🙂

    Am an email subscriber.

  8. Rita

    Those look amazing! I’ve had trouble finding dark soy sauce but I’m sure I just haven’t been to the right store yet. How neat that you’re giving away those language pods! Sounds really interesting too! I’m an e-mail subscriber and am interested in knowing if you can switch from one language to another? If not I’d probably go with French but if you can who knows :o)

  9. tigerfish

    I always prefer dark soy sauce to light soy sauce. The flavor is just more intense. Well, but I know I can’t substitute that for every case.

  10. Lija

    This looks like a tasty sauce – how do you think it would go with tofu (I’m a vegetarian)?

    Thanks for the opportunity!

    Make the same sauce…toss with pan fried tofu! ~j

  11. Lija

    Chance number two – I’m an e-mail subscriber. I like the idea of learning a new language. I have to keep up with my sister, who is learning her 4th (a subscription would give me a chance to master a third). Thanks!

  12. Erika

    I’m a new email subscriber and I would love to learn Mandarin Chinese.

    I think I’d definitely have to get a butcher to cut the ribs for me!

  13. lily

    Hi Jaden,

    I really enjoy reading your blog and recipes! For this recipe, just wondering can I use pork spareribs (like the ones used in your steamed spareribs in black bean sauce recipe)? BTW, I love that recipe and have cooked it many times. Curiously Ravenous’s recipe says to simmer the ribs for 1 hour, your recipe says 15 minutes. Is that long enough to tenderize the meat?


    yes! 15 minutes is perfect.
    and yes to using the same rib tips as in the recipe for black bean sauce. ~j

  14. Chris

    I keep saying that I want to try something different with my spare and loin back ribs. But darn it…..they fit so nicely in my smoker;)

  15. joey

    These ribs look and sound phenomenal! I am saving this recipe in my to-do files!

    I love Chinese black vinegar…yum 🙂

  16. Sharon

    I made these last night…to say they were amazing would be a severe understatement. My four kids devoured these and then dipped their eggrolls (made from Jaden’s recipe with the addition of shrimp to the pork) into the sauce. These will now be in regular rotation!

    Of course, everything I have made from this site has been delicious!

  17. shazlin

    I really enjoy reading your blog & recipes.Wonder if other than substitute Chinese Black Vinegar with Balsamic vinegar, can I jz use lemon jus instead coz my mum can’t take vinegar 😀


  18. Sheau Huey

    Just stumbled upon you site today looking for spare ribs recipes and decided to make these tonight. Hubby is out buying the rice wine and black vinegar from the market right now. Hehe…

    May I ask what you mean by skimming the water? Is that like a er, stupid question, because it doesn’t really ring any bells for me?

    Anyway, really love your site. Am really glad I found it today.

    Skimming means taking a big spoon and lifting the scum off the surface of the water. WHen you boil meat or seafood, you’ll always get some of the “nasties” floating on top. Skim that stuff out and discard! Sometimes I use a very fine meshed strainer that easily does the trick! ~j

  19. ting

    oooooo! i’ve been looking for a recipe that doesn’t require me to deep fry it!! thanks!!
    I’m trying to cut down some fat, so this is perfect! 🙂
    too bad i’m missed the language program you’re giving away.
    that’s very thoughtful of you, so hope the winner enjoys it.

  20. blackhand

    hi jaden!i see that yummy and amazing!!But i had trueble to find black soy souce and chinese black vinegar…. becouse is locked off this…

  21. Morgan

    These ribs were so good! I made them for my boyfriend and I and we didn’t intend to but we finished almost all of what I made in one sitting! Thanks so much for the recipe and I’ll definitely check out the book they came from!

  22. Smoochy

    Thanks Jaden for posting the recipe. I just made them and they were so delicious. Love the fragrant of the broth after the cooking wine was put in. Instead of pouring it away, is there any use for it? I did buy thick soy sauce and it made a difference. This got me interested in looking into making Hunan chicken.

    1. SteamyKitchen

      Thanks Smoochy (love that name!) You can use the broth as a base for soup (pile in vegetables and add lots of water to cover) or other sauce. You can steam some vegetables and then pour that sauce over it like we do.


    Hi thanks so much for this interesting recipe that does not require deepfrying. I will try it for CNY. Can i follow this recipe and add pineapple and bell peppers when frying the green onions? Would appreciate your advice.

  24. hemp wick

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