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Eric Akis: Celebrate Lunar New Year with sweet-and-sour side ribs

Slabs of tender pork side ribs are topped with a sweet and sour sauce and baked until richly flavoured.
Tender pork side ribs are baked with a palate pleasing sweet and sour sauce. ERIC AKIS

Chinese Lunar New Year began Sunday and runs until Feb. 5. Those celebrating the occasion will enjoy special meals, including pork side ribs dressed with a sweet and sour sauce.

It’s a dish you can make at home and if you’d like to, my recipe begins by cooking slabs of side ribs, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven. As the ribs cook, their natural juices release, steam builds and, by the end of cooking, they’re very tender.

After the ribs are cooked, they are cut into smaller pieces, set in a baking dish, and topped with a sweet and sour sauce, with bits of onion, bell peppers, pineapple and ginger in it. The ribs are then covered and cooked a while longer in the oven to allow the sauce to richly flavour them.

You can serve the ribs with steamed rice or fried rice, and an Asian-style green, such as baby bok choy or gai lan, steamed, plated and served as is, or drizzled with oyster sauce.

Note: If you want take part in a Chinese New Year tradition, head down to Victoria’s Chinatown, on Fisgard Street, this Sunday at noon to see the lion dance parade. The lions, dressed in impressive costumes, will colourfully and whimsically weave their way through Chinatown, scaring away evil spirits from the past year, and blessing merchants with good luck for the New Year. Victoria’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, 636 Fisgard St., sponsors the event.

Sweet and Sour Pork Side Ribs

Slabs of pork side ribs, cooked until tender, cut into smaller pieces, topped with a sweet and sour sauce, and baked until richly flavoured.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: Two hours 15 minutes

Servings: four servings

3 1/4 to 3 1/2 lbs. (about 1.5 to 1.6 kg) pork side ribs

• vegetable oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup ketchup

1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (see Note)

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium to large onion, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes

1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger

1 cup canned, unsweetened pineapple tidbits, drained well (see Note)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Tear three, 18-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and set on a work surface. Cut ribs, widthwise, into six, about six-inch long slabs. Lightly oil the centre of each piece of foil. Set two slabs of ribs, meaty-side-up, in a row down the centre of each piece of foil. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Fold and seal the ribs in the foil. Set the three foil packages of ribs in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake ribs one hour 40 minutes, or until very tender.

When ribs are tender, remove from oven and uncover. Let ribs cool until safe enough to handle. Meanwhile, start making sweet and sour sauce by combining the ketchup, pineapple juice, vinegar, soy sauce and brown sugar in a bowl. Heat the oil in a medium pot set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and ginger and stir-fry three minutes. Pour in the ketchup mixture, and stir in the pineapple tidbits. Bring the sauce to a simmer and remove from the heat and cover.

Transfer ribs to a cutting board and cut each slab, widthwise, into three or four pieces. Set the ribs, in a single layer if you can, in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Pour the sweet and sour sauce over the ribs. Cover and bake the ribs in the 325 F oven 20 to 25 minutes more, or until very hot and flavourful, and then serve, from the dish or arranged on a serving platter.

Note: When you drain the pineapple tidbits, you’ll have about 1/2 cup of pineapple juice you can use in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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