Caramel Pork Ribs

By Shu Han Lee From the book Chicken and Rice
Caramel Pork Ribs (Thit Kho To) from Chicken and Rice

Although people are generally becoming better aware of the subtleties across Asian cuisines, there are many who still expect some form of sweet, sticky stir-fry. While I hope to prove there is much more beyond that, ‘sweet, sticky stir-fries’ can be pretty amazing when done well. The Vietnamese thit kho to melts sugar over low heat to create a caramel first, and uses fish sauce to add funky saltiness. What results is tender pork coated in a beautifully rich dark sauce that’s far from sickly.

Note: Instead of ribs you can also use an equal weight of cubed pork belly or pork shoulder.

For how many? Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500g free-range pork spare ribs
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 4 heaped tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bird's-eye chillies, chopped
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1 spring onion, sliced

Instructions

1. Get your butcher to divide the ribs up and chop them into 6cm pieces.

2. Set a wok over a low heat and add the oil. Pour the sugar evenly over the bottom of the wok and let it melt, stirring occasionally.

3. Once the sugar has melted and turns golden, turn the heat up to medium and stir in the pork ribs. Drizzle in the fish sauce, add the garlic and chillies, and toss to make sure the pork is well coated.

4. Add a dash of warm water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add a pinch of salt, cover, and let simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, until the pork is cooked and tender. 

5. Uncover and cook on a medium heat to reduce the sauce, until it thickens and becomes sticky enough to coat the pork.* Finish with a sprinkling of sliced spring onions.

* Sometimes I stop at this stage to get a quite different dish altogether. You don’t get sticky ribs, but you get tender pork and a glossy, sweet dark sauce that is delicious spooned over rice.

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