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Eric Akis: Thai sweet chili sauce adds tangy twist to pork back ribs

Succulent pork back ribs are topped with a citrusy chili-spiced glaze, crunchy peanuts and green onions. The result is sweet, sour — and hard to resist.
Two tender, half-rack, Thai chili-glazed servings of pork back ribs are served with charred broccolini. ERIC AKIS

Like many home cooks, I keep a variety of condiments in my refrigerator, at the ready to add flavour to a wide range of dishes. Those condiments include Asian-style ones, with one of my personal favourites being Thai sweet chili sauce. 

Thai sweet chili sauce has a sweet, slightly tangy, mildly spicy taste (thanks to the added chilies). In Thai restaurants it’s served as a dip for such things as spring rolls. It can also be used to flavour stir-fries, such as vegetable-rich ones.

Another tasty way to use Thai sweet chili sauce is to make it the feature ingredient in a glaze for seafood, chicken and meats, such as the pork ribs used in today’s lead recipe.

To ensure the ribs were appealingly tender, I seasoned two, meaty, half racks of pork back ribs with salt and pepper, individually wrapped them in foil, and then baked them 95 minutes. As noted in past columns using this technique, as the ribs cook in the foil, their natural juices release, steam builds and, by the end of cooking, they are very tender and have a rich pork flavour.

After the ribs have baked those 95 minutes, the foil packages are opened up and the ribs are generously basted, in two goes, with what I called a Thai chili glaze. The glaze is easy to make and you do so by combining and simmering Thai sweet chili sauce with citrus juices, soy sauce and chopped fresh ginger. The ribs are then baked 20 minutes more, until richly coloured.

Once plated, you further enhance the ribs by topping them with chopped peanuts and sliced green onions. The end result is a chili/ginger-spiced, sublimely delicious pork dish with palate-awakening sweet, sour and citrusy flavours.

The recipe serves two; half a meaty rack of ribs per person. If feeding a larger group, the recipe could be doubled or further expanded. To make a meal of the ribs, serve them with steamed jasmine rice and a vegetable stir-fry or charred green vegetable. As you’ll see in today’s recipe photo and second recipe, I did the latter, serving the ribs with charred broccolini with soy and sesame. It is a smoky-tasting, easy to make side dish that pairs well with the ribs and their glaze.

Pork Back Ribs with Thai Chili Glaze and Peanuts

Two half-rack portions of succulent pork back ribs topped with a citrusy chili-spiced glaze, crunchy peanuts and green onions.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 large, meaty, full rack of pork back ribs (about 750 to 850 grams)

• vegetable oil or vegetable oil spray

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup Thai sweet chili sauce (see Note)

2 Tbsp orange juice

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp lime juice

2 tsp water

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1 small green onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced widthwise

2 Tbsp unsalted peanuts, chopped or crushed into small pieces (see Eric’s options)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Tear two, 18-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and set on a work surface. Cut the rack of ribs widthwise in half, creating two half-rack portions. Pat ribs dry with paper towel. Lightly oil the centre of the top of the foil on which you will set the ribs. Now set a half-rack of ribs, meaty side up, in the centre of each piece of foil.

Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Package up and seal ribs in the foil. Set ribs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake ribs 95 minutes, or until very tender.

When ribs have almost baked 95 minutes, combine the chili sauce, juices, water, soy sauce and ginger in a small pot. Set over medium, medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, and simmer one minute. Remove this glaze from the heat.

When they’ve baked 95 minutes, carefully open up each package of ribs so that the top of the ribs are directly exposed to the heat, but the juices under the ribs stay in the foil. Brush the ribs with half of the glaze. Bake the ribs 10 minutes. Brush the ribs with the remaining glaze and bake 10 minutes more.

Set a half rack of ribs on each of two dinner plates. Top ribs with any glaze left in the foil packages. Now top ribs with the peanuts and green onions, and then serve.

Note: Thai sweet chili sauce is sold in bottles in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: Instead of peanuts, try topping the ribs with chopped or crushed, unsalted cashews.

Charred Broccolini with Soy and Sesame

Here’s a quick-cooking, smoky-tasting green vegetable you can serve alongside the tender pork back ribs.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Cooking time: four to five minutes

Makes: two servings

1 small bunch broccolini, broccolette or sweet baby broccoli, stems trimmed, any loose leaves removed

1/4 cup water

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Set a 10-inch cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is very hot, add broccolini (or broccolette or sweet baby broccoli) and cook and occasionally turn until starting to char around the edges, about three to four minutes. Add the water to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and simmer and steam the broccolini (or broccolette or sweet baby broccoli) until it’s bright green and just tender, about one minute. Toss in the soy sauce and sesame oil, and then serve.

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