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Sichuan Tangcu Paigu (Sweet and Sour Spareribs)

The Mala Market
Author: Kathy Yuan | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • pounds crosscut pork spareribs approx. 600-680 grams
  • handful flour
  • 6 fresh scallions, washed, divided: half tied into knot together, half chopped in 2-3 inch sections
  • 8 slices fresh ginger, washed, divided
  • splash Shaoxing wine or any liaojiu (rice cooking wine)
  • 2 tablespoons caiziyou (Chinese roasted rapeseed oil), or enough to coat pan
  • cup rock sugar, divided approx. 70 grams
  • ½ teaspoon whole red huajiao (Sichuan pepper)
  • 1 whole dried chili
  • 1 whole bajiao (star anise)
  • 1 piece dried shannai/shajiang (sand ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred) approx. 16 grams
  • ¼ cup black vinegar (Zhenjiang or Shanxi preferred), divided approx. 60 grams
  • teaspoon fine sea salt approx. 6 grams
  • 4 cups boiling water, or just enough to cover
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
  • toasted sesame seeds, for garnish


Blanching and pre-cooking

  • Clean the ribs by scrubbing in cool water with a handful of flour to remove extra blood and other particles. Rinse and scrub in at least 2 changes of water until the water runs mostly clear.
  • Place the pork, 4 ginger slices, knotted scallion bundle and splash of Shaoxing wine in a pot of cold water, covered, and bring to a boil over low-medium heat. Once boiling, remove the lid and continue simmering 3 minutes on low heat, skimming and discarding the foam. Strain the blanched ribs with a slotted spoon and rinse clean in warm water, scrubbing off any scum. Set aside and let dry before pan-frying in next step.

Caramelizing the sweet-and-sour sauce

  • In a medium* pot, dutch oven, or wok with a lid, heat about 2 tablespoons of caiziyou until smoking**. Over high heat, add the dried ribs and stir-fry rapidly until just golden browned on edges. Remove from heat and set aside the pan-fried ribs for the next step, keeping remaining oil in the pot.
    *Ideally all the ribs should fit in a single layer in a pot wide enough to quickly reduce the sauce at the end but not so large that it requires too much water to cover in the braising step. A wok is ideal.
    **If not using caiziyou, no need to smoke off the oil. Heat to shimmering.
  • Reserve two spoonfuls, about 2 tablespoons, of the 1/3 cup rock sugar for later. Make the caramel by melting the remaining rock sugar in the remaining oil over low heat. Stir continuously until the melted sugar has turned amber brown and begins bubbling. Immediately add the ribs back in and stir-fry rapidly to stop the sugar from overcooking and get the ribs to take on its caramel color. Add the red huajiao, dried chili, star anise, sand ginger, chopped scallion whites, and the remaining sliced ginger, stir-frying until fragrant.
    Add the reserved two spoonfuls of rock sugar, soy sauce and 40 grams (two-thirds of the total amount, approx. 2½ tablespoons) black vinegar with just enough boiling water to cover the meat. Add dark soy sauce and fine sea salt to taste. Simmer over lowest heat, covered, 30-35 minutes.
  • To reduce the sauce, remove the spices after cooking and discard. Check the ribs—if they are cooked through to your liking, you may also wish to remove the ribs to prevent overcooking. Boil the sauce on high to reduce to a thick, sticky glaze. Take care once the water content has nearly evaporated not to burn the caramelized sugars, which will turn the sauce bitter.
    Toward the very end, add the remaining 20 grams of vinegar (one-third of the total amount, approx. 1½ tablespoons). If you removed them earlier, toss the ribs back in to coat, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.