Dim Sum Spare Ribs with Black Beans
A classic dim sum savoury dish that can be prepared easily in your home. Enjoy a steamy hot dish of pork spare ribs flavoured with salted or fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, chilli, Chinese wine, oyster and light soy sauces.
If there’s a dim sum dish that stands out in a Chinese restaurant, it would have to be these tender, flavour-packed spare ribs with black beans steamed piping hot. You all know what I’m talking about, guys.
Those spare ribs served in little porcelain saucers sitting in a delish broth of flavourful meat juices with just enough fat on them so they’re tender and easily come off the bone once you bite into them.
Of all the dim sum dishes, steamed spare ribs are just about the easiest to replicate at home. You don’t need any dim sum equipment or fancy tools. You’ll get by with a heatproof plate and a steamer.
Table of contents
- My favourite dim sum spare ribs with black beans
- Why steaming works so great
- Dim sum steamed spare ribs in 3 easy steps
- Which pork ribs are best for steaming
- How to make steamed dim sum spare ribs
- How to set up a steamer
- What dishes go well with steamed spare ribs
The list of seasonings may look involved, but you’ll find that they’re basic Asian pantry staples like oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil with regular condiments like garlic, ginger and the lot.
As for salted black beans, this is what makes these ribs and the sauce absolutely umami! You’ll easily find jars of fermented black beans in supermarket aisles under Asian or International. So, let’s get into the meat of this dim sum favourite.
My favourite dim sum spare ribs with black beans
There’s no need to go to a Chinese restaurant (and pay inflated prices) to enjoy these delish dim sum spare ribs. I’m sharing my no fail recipe that I’ve used to recreate this favourite dish for years, and it’s one you’ll come back to time and time again.
Here’s what you’ll get:
- Flavour. These spare ribs are flavour-packed – salty, savoury, spicy and aromatic. That’s because they’re left to sit in a marinade for at least half an hour before steaming. This allows the ribs to absorb the seasonings for fuller, more robust flavours.
- Texture. The meat is almost fall-off-the-bone tender. Baking soda acts a meat tenderiser so the meat cooks to a tender texture and stays juicy and succulent.
- Umami sauce. Nothing goes to waste in this dish! As the ribs steam, juices are released into the seasoning mix and these make delicious pools of umami (savoury) gravy that you’ll lap up. Absolutely delicious when spooned steamed Jasmine rice or noodles.
Why steaming works so great
Steaming is one of the oldest Chinese techniques to getting moist, tender-cooked food. The steam circulates around the dish and gently cooks the food without drying it out.
The steam also doesn’t agitate the food, which makes it a perfect method for cooking delicate vegetables, seafood, shellfish and meat.
Compared to frying or baking at high temperatures, gentle heating by steaming also ensures that the food retains all its valuable nutrients and flavours.
It’s way healthier too! You can skip greasing or oiling the pan altogether. In fact, you’ll love how versatile steaming is for a lot of food and not just for cooking but re-heating as well.
It might not look it but steaming is a quick cooking method so you’ll want to watch the food. It usually takes only 15 – 20 minutes to cook spare ribs, depending on the size so stay close.
Dim sum steamed spare ribs in 3 easy steps
Preparing this popular dim sum dish is a breeze. Everything comes together in 3 easy steps:
- Tenderise. Add baking soda to cleaned spare ribs and let them sit for an hour.
- Marinate. Mix the seasonings in a bowl and marinade for at least 30 minutes. Give the spare ribs time to soak up all that umami flavour – it’s worth the wait!
- Steam. Cook in a steamer for 15 to 20 minutes and enjoy these tender, juicy spare ribs – piping hot!
Which pork ribs are best for steaming
Not all types of pork ribs are suitable for steaming. Wherever possible, use pork riblets. These are the shorter bones close to the tenderloin where the attached meat is more tender and slightly fatty.
“Riblets are simply smaller pieces cut from a full rack, while rib tips are meaty chunks from the underside of spare ribs that contain cartilage but no bone.” – source: thespruceeats.com.
These meaty riblets cook quickly and are suitable for roasting in whole, or chopped into smaller pieces for steaming, stewing and braising. Regardless of whether you choose riblets or rib tips, these are all pork ribs and will work fine for this dish.
When in doubt, just ask your local butcher to help you choose the right ribs. I am pretty clueless myself when it comes to the anatomy of pork flesh and bones, so I always let my local butcher in on exactly what I’m going to cook.
Whether you’re making a steamed, braised or deep-fried pork dish, your local butcher will always know exactly what cuts work best. Not only that, they can offer really helpful preparation or cooking tips as well!
Ingredients to make dim sum spare ribs with black beans
- pork spare ribs. For best flavour and texture, use pork riblets.
- ginger. Helps neutralise a strong, porky taste and aroma of the meat.
- garlic. Adds flavour and pairs well with bland and savoury ingredients.
- bird’s eye chilli (optional). Adds a spicy, punchy kick to these spare ribs.
- dried tangerine peel (optional). This is an optional but traditional ingredient that will impart zesty notes in your dish. Also known as dried mandarin peel.
- corn flour. Insulates the meat from high heat and adds a glossy sheen to cooked food.
- green onion or spring onion (optional). Adds crunch and fragrance as well as infuses the juices with a sweet, oniony flavour.
- salted black beans. These are also called douchi, Chinese fermented black beans or preserved black beans. Basically, these are dry, black beans that have been salted and fermented and are used as a seasoning for many Chinese dishes. These beans are not to be confused with black bean pastes which are usually flavoured with additional seasonings.
- Chinese wine. I like to use Shaoxing wine, but sherry will work just as well.
- sesame oil. Adds smoky notes and fragrance.
- oyster sauce. Adds a savoury flavour and a hint of sweetness to meat.
- soy sauce. Use regular or low-sodium soy sauce.
- ground white pepper. Infuses peppery notes to the overall dish.
- sugar. Balances the salty-ness of the black beans and seasonings.
- salt. Use only as needed in a tiny amount to accentuate other flavours.
How to make steamed dim sum spare ribs
Step 1. Prepare the ribs
- If you buy a rack of ribs and want to cut them yourself, be sure to use a good Chinese cleaver. Be careful though! In fact, I highly recommend letting your local butcher do this for you at the store. Wash the ribs free of any remnant bone fragments or shards and clean thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Make a solution with the baking soda and water. Place the ribs in a mixing bowl and rub the solution all over. Cover with plastic wrap and let the ribs sit for an hour in the chiller.
Step 2. Make the marinade
- If using dried tangerine peel, soak in tepid water till soft. Scrape off the pith with the blade of a small knife. Wash clean and mince.
- Mix the minced ginger, garlic, bird’s eye chilli and tangerine peel in a large mixing bowl until well combined.
- Add the salted black beans, Chinese wine, sesame and vegetable oils, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, water, corn starch, white pepper, sugar and salt. Stir to combine well (Note: If you don’t want the black beans to break up, you can add them in the next step.)
- Tip in the spare ribs. Rub the marinade into the ribs until the liquid is all absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for at least 30 minutes. For best flavour, I recommend letting the ribs marinate overnight (covered) in the chiller.
Step 3. Steam and serve
- Fill a wok with enough water. Place a steaming rack over, making sure the rack sits above the water level. Cover the wok with its lid and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Once boiling, place the heatproof dish or small saucers of pork ribs on the steaming rack. Cover with the wok lid and steam over high heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the spare ribs are cooked through.
How to set up a steamer
There’s no need to buy any new equipment because you can just as easily set it up with a pot or wok with a lid and a steaming rack.
Here are a few quick and easy options:
- Wok and steaming rack. You need a steaming rack, a wok and a plate lifter. Place the steaming rack inside the wok and fill with enough water. Make sure the rack sits above the water. Heat over high heat until the water boils. Using a plate lifter, place heatproof plate (with the food on it) onto the rack and cover with the wok lid.
- Wok or pot and bamboo steamer. If you’re going to do it dim sum style, you’ll want to get bamboo steamers. Get a single or a stack of bamboo steamers. A good size would be one that can sit inside the wok or pot with a few inches of room below it for filling water, and wide enough to accommodate the heatproof plates you typically use.
- Steamer. This is a convenient stack and steam pot set. Typically comprised of 2 tiers, the lower pot holds the water while the upper pot has a perforated bottom and lid to enclose the food so that steam can circulate throughout.
What dishes go well with steamed spare ribs
Make this a complete meal with:
- Steamed Jasmine Rice
- Easy Chinese Stir-fried Nai Bai with Garlic
- Cantonese-Style Stir-fried Bitter Gourd with Eggs
- Sweet and Sour Fish + The Best Sweet and Sour Sauce Recipe!
- 300 g pork spare ribs (see Recipe Notes)
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ tbsp water
For the Marinade:
- 1½ tbsp fermented black beans finely chopped
- 1 thumb length ginger knob peeled and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 4 bird’s eye chilli washed and finely chopped
- 1 thumb length dried tangerine peel (optional)
For the Seasonings:
- ½ tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tbsp Shaoxing wine or sherry
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1¼ tsp sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp corn flour or potato starch
- Finely chopped spring onion for garnish
Tenderise the spare ribs:
- Wash pork spare ribs clean and trim off visible fat. Dry with paper towels. Rub all over with baking soda and water.
- Let sit for 1 hour. Wash the baking soda off. Pat dry and set aside.
- (Optional) If using dried tangerine peel, soak in tepid water till soft. Scrape off the pith with the blade of a small knife. Wash clean and mince.
Marinate the spare ribs:
- Mix the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well combined. Add the seasonings and minced tangerine peel. Stir to combine well.
- Tip in the spare ribs. Rub the marinade into the ribs until all of the liquid is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for at least 30 minutes (for best flavour, marinate overnight in the chiller).
- When ready to steam, place spare ribs in a heatproof dish or in small porcelain saucers, 4 to 5 ribs each (classic dim sum style).
Steam the spare ribs:
- Fill a wok at least ⅓ full with water. Place a steaming rack in the wok, making sure the rack sits above the water level. Cover the wok with its lid and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Once boiling, place the heatproof dish or small saucers of pork ribs on the steaming rack. Cover with the wok lid and steam over high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the spare ribs are cooked through.
- Remove the dish/saucers from the steamer. Garnish with chopped spring onions, and serve immediately.
Choose the right pork ribs
- Not all types of pork ribs are suitable for steaming. Wherever possible, try to choose or get pork riblets.
- These are bones are shorter and close to the tenderloin where the attached meat is more tender and slightly fatty.
- These meaty riblets cook quickly and are suitable for roasting whole, or chopped into smaller pieces for steaming, stewing and braising.
- Ask your local butcher to help you choose the right ribs.
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