There are two ways to cook this dish. The first option is to marinate the pork spare ribs overnight, steam or bake them until the meat is tender then, after cooling, grill them while basting frequently with the reduced marinade.
The second way is to braise the ribs. No marinating necessary. Just throw the ribs into a hot lightly greased pan to brown, pour in the sauce and cook slowly over low heat until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced. Turn up the heat to lightly caramelize and… presto!
The pork spare ribs with sticky orange sauce that you see in the photos were braised. It was simply much too hot outside to grill.
Whichever cooking method you choose, the ingredients for the sauce stay the same—mandarin orange juice (sweeter than regular orange juice and with no trace of bitterness), balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sweet rice wine (I used mirin), grated ginger and a bit of salt. Segmented mandarin oranges and finely sliced scallions were scattered on top of the ribs just before serving.
Can juice from regular oranges be substituted? Hmmmmm… yesss, but… you need to be able to distinguish between sweet oranges and bitter oranges. Sweet oranges include blood orange and navel orange. Bitter oranges which include the Seville orange are used for making marmalade. You will want the juice from sweet oranges. Otherwise, the sauce might taste funny.
How can you differentiate between one kind of orange from another? Ideally, oranges should be labeled accordingly when they are sold. But that’s not always the case. I’m not an expert but, as a rough guideline, try this.
Mandarin oranges are easy to spot. They are smaller, softer and with a thin rind. The rind of the Mandarin orange is so thin that, if dropped, the fruit will easily bruise. Navel oranges have that telltale navel-like groove where the stem is attached. Bitter oranges have really thick rinds—press the fruit between your fingers and get a feel of how thick the rind is.
I know, telling one from the other is easier said than done. But if you start paying more attention to the oranges that you find in the market, after a while, you’ll get the hang of it and differentiating them becomes easier.
Can commercial orange juice be substituted? Yes, but get the unsweetened and undiluted kind. And do check the label to make sure that the juice was squeezed from sweet oranges.
As for the orange segments, can canned or bottled Mandarin orange segments be used? Oh, sure! That’s what I used. I couldn’t segment oranges that perfectly if my life depended on it.
Pork Spare Ribs With Sticky Orange Sauce
- 1.2 kilograms pork spare ribs
- 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 to 2 and 1/2 cups Mandarin orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed) or unsweetened and undiluted commercial orange juice
- salt to taste
- sugar optional
- 1 cup mandarin orange segments
- 1/2 cup sliced scallions
Wipe the ribs dry with a kitchen towel.
Heat the sesame seed oil in a shallow pan wide enough to accommodate the ribs in a single layer.
Drop the ribs in the hot oil making sure they don't overlap. Cook over high heat to sear the ribs. Give them quarter turns for even browning.
Sprinkle the grated ginger over the browned ribs.
Pour in the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and mirin. Swirl the pan a few times to mix the liquids together. Bring to the boil and cook uncovered for about five minutes, turning the ribs a few times.
Pour the orange juice over the ribs and sprinkle in about a teaspoonful of salt. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover the pan tightly and cook the ribs for about an hour or until the meat is tender.
Taste the sauce. If it needs more salt, add some. You may also add some sugar if you prefer a sweeter sauce. If you used commercial orange juice, you will likely need to add some sugar.
Turn up the heat and continue cooking the ribs until the sauce is sticky and almost dry. During the last few minutes, turn the ribs around to caramelize as much of the surface as possible.
Arrange the ribs on a serving plate. Drizzle whatever sauce is left in the pan over them. Garnish with mandarin orange segments and sliced scallions.
Serve your pork spare ribs with sticky orange sauce while hot.
If you want to cook this dish in advance, do not add the mandarin orange segments and sliced scallions after cooking. Cool the ribs, transfer to a covered container and keep in the fridge overnight.
To reheat, place the ribs in a heatproof bowl, cover tightly and steam. DO NOT reheat directly in a pan. There is so little liquid in the dish that the meat might scorch before getting heated through. So, use a steamer.
After reheating, arrange the ribs on a serving plate and garnish with the mandarin orange segments and sliced scallions.