Them Bones, Them Bones

When I was a little girl, I remember many a dinner that featured a platter of little nuggets of Chinese pork spareribs.

No matter if they were coated in salty, pungent black bean sauce or sweet hoisin sauce, my Dad would root around with a serving spoon until he found the exact piece he was looking for.

As a kid, I would watch him digging around, and would wonder why he took so long to do this.

Only as an adult did I realize what he was actually doing.

He wasn’t looking for the meatiest sparerib, but the scrawniest — the one with barely any tender flesh on it. My late-Dad, who was born to first-generation, working-class Chinese immigrants, was used to scrimping, sacrificing, and making do with less. After all, when he was saving money to buy our family’s first and only house in San Francisco, he voluntarily took on the extra duties of cleaning and sweeping the stairs and hallways of the apartment building we lived in then in exchange for a cut in rent from the landlord.

That frugality carried over into his eating, too. When the Lazy-Susan stopped in front of him at a Chinese restaurant, he’d do that thing with the spoon for quite a few seconds, until he found the piece of chicken or duck or pork that was mostly all bone. He left the meatier pieces behind for my Mom, my two brothers, and I.

He’d use his fingers to gnaw on those bony pieces, savoring every last little bit of meat and succulent sauce. When the bone finally was discarded on his plate, it was clean as can be.

My Dad never wasted anything, that’s for sure. But he also knew a good thing when he tasted it. Those bony pieces of meat had some of the best flavor around. Good cooks know that cooking meat on the bone not only helps it cook faster but keeps it juicier, too. Bones also amp up the flavor of meat. That’s why they make such great stocks, why dogs love to chew on them, and why we all love to pick the tender bits off of hefty prime rib bones on holidays.

When I saw Tuty’s recipe for “Roasted Spareribs a la Scent of Spice” on her Scent of Spice blog, I couldn’t help but think of my Dad.

Two-inch long pork spareribs roasted in the oven with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and Worcestershire sauce until tender and caramelized is a dish I could easily see him enjoying.

I barely made any changes to Tuty’s original recipe. I used fragrant spring garlic bulbs instead of regular garlic because they happen to be in season right now and just too wonderful to pass up. I also added a little chopped ginger, because you know I just can’t resist the stuff. I also added just a touch of fish sauce because I thought it would work well in the mix.

The tiny ribs emerge from the oven succulent and finger-licking good. In my mind’s eye, I can picture my late-Dad rooting around with the serving spoon for just the right piece. And I smile knowingly, now realizing just what he was after.

Roasted Spareribs a la Scent of Spice

(Serves 4 as part of a family-style meal with other dishes)

3 pounds pork spareribs

1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced garlic or 2-3 spring garlic stalks with bulbs, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon salt to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon honey or to taste

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2/3 cup hot water

2 teaspoons fish sauce

Chopped scallions, for garnish

Have your butcher cut the spareribs across the slab into 2-inch lengths and in-between the bones.

At home, rinse the spareribs to remove small bone fragments that may have been left behind after being cut. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large mixing bowl, combine garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, honey, sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add rib pieces and rub well. Marinate for at least 30 minutes (at room temperature) or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil for easy clean-up. Put ribs and marinade in roasting pan. Cook for about 30 minutes, then turn rib pieces. Mix 2/3 cup hot water with fish sauce and add this mixture to the pan to prevent ribs from drying out. Continue cooking and basting every 10 minutes for another 30 minutes or until ribs are tender.

Garnish ribs with scallions. Serve with steamed rice or garlic noodles, and a stir-fried vegetable side dish.

Adapted from a recipe from Tuty of Scent of Spice blog

Another lovely recipe with bones: Sara’s Persian Chicken

And another: Ad Hoc’s Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon and Fennel

More: My Dad’s Baked Version of Foil-Wrapped Chicken

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  • a beautiful story….

    I’d love to nibble those spareribs!



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  • Lovely memories and beautiful dish! And thanks to the amazing photo, I can almost smell and taste all the flavors…

  • Your dad and I would have fought over those bones! My non-Chinese husband doesn’t understand nor appreciate bones, and when our daughter and I are gnawing on turkey legs at the fair, he calls us Neanderthals! I say he’s less competition for the good stuff!

  • How do you feel about blanching the ribs first? I always do and find that they end up tasting fresher and less fatty.

  • Sophia M: Nothing wrong with blanching them first. They will cook faster that way. I know some people don’t like doing that, especially when it comes to barbecued ribs, because they find that some of the flavor of the meat is lost. It’s simply a personal preference, I’d say.

  • This looks delicious! I’ve never really thought or craved to make spareribs until now!

  • Mmm, your version of this recipe turned out looking really succulent, so mouth-watering. And it’s always nice to be reminded of how the earlier generation made such sacrifices for us.

  • There’s the main event for Sunday dinner! Thanks for another great recipe, Carolyn!

  • This recipe looks absolutely delicious. I’ve recently begun giving up the convenience of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for bone-in meat, and I have found that the flavor of whatever I cook is much improved. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • Your title had me thinking about bone marrow but now I’m craving spareribs! Love the story you shared – I also grew up in an working class immigrant family and my parents always saved the choice pieces of everything for my brother and I. My dad wasn’t so much into spareribs, but he would always save me the sole lop cheong from lo mai gai at dim sum, and the juicy shiitake mushrooms from chow mein noodles ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Did we grow up in the same family? ๐Ÿ™‚ My dad was the same way. Smart guys, right? These look heavenly. I am definitely going to remember this recipe.

  • Beautiful story about your dad. My dad is also like that. He always keep the best part for us. I must have picked up from him cos I do that too. I wonder why kids these days don’t touch all the bony parts. I’m the one who finish all. I’m still trying to teach my children to enjoy biting and sucking the bones…not very successful ๐Ÿ˜› Your rib dish looks very delicious here. I love all the ingredients used.

  • Louise Kinoshita

    How great that you have such nice memories of your dad. You carry on his legacy. He would be proud!

  • Thank you for featuring my recipe in memory of your dear father. He certainly taught you that the most flavorful part of the meat was “hidden” between the bones. My children are learning the arts of cleaning the bones too ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Last but not least, I appreciate the links to my site.

  • Tuty: Thank YOU for the wonderful recipe. It’s definitely one I’ll be making again and again.

  • That’s a beautiful story, Carolyn. ๐Ÿ™‚ It reminds me of my mom and dad who are also working very hard right now, we haven’t gotten our first house yet though.
    And yes, all good cooks know the importance of bones. An analogy just came to mind, your hardworking dad is the bone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love to chew on those bones too…I tell ya. Those “soft bones” and membranes stuck to the main rib bone…hahaha…my favorite. I try to do that as much as I can at home though. I mean, it is not very polite to do that in restaurants unless I master the skill of doing everything …errrr…handsfree?

  • The story of your dad that was inspired from just ribs is incredible. You truly bring out why I get addicted to food, the connection of memories.

  • So -that-‘s what I will do with the green garlic I bought at today’s farmers market. Thanks, Carolyn – now to go find some spareribs. The stories of your family are my favorite part of your blog; thank you so much for sharing these precious moments with us.

  • Wow, I loved this post, Carolyn! what a great and loving and selfless dad you had…he sacrificed a lot for his family!

  • This is a nice recipe for sure, but your writing on your late-Dad touches my heart.

  • so your pop gives new meaning to being a member of the clean plate club! what a lovely dish–i’d love a bite, but i wish i could smell it more than anything else!

  • What a gorgeous story about your dad Carolyn! He sounds so sweet. It wasn’t quite like that with my parents but my grandmother used to give me the best pieces of things and it was so sweet! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I absolutely love this post. Not only is the recipe making me drool a little (don’t worry, it isn’t getting on the keys!), but the description of your father is beautiful. I am tearing up a bit reading it. Thank you.

  • I always forget how easy spareribs are to make. And these sound delicious! I like the addition of fish sauce. Gnawing on the bones…with ribs…essential! Ciao.

  • can i just have a bucket of these w/ ice cold cream soda? how can we make that happen now?

  • What a great story, and I cannot wait to try this recipe. Thanks also for the link to a wonderful looking blog – I cannot wait to explore.

  • Great post. I actually made spare ribs for the first time today and was struggling to find a recipe. I should have just visited my google reader and found yours!

  • Love the story about your late father. My father passed away last year and there are so many dishes that remind me of him…Isn’t it great that cooking and eating certain dishes bring us closer to them, even though it’s in our mind…it’s precious.

  • Bee: Belated condolences about your Dad. It’s so true what you say — so many little things bring the most powerful memories of one’s father, especially those surrounding food, cooking and family gatherings.

  • Love the story about your late father. My father passed away last year and there are so many dishes that remind me of him…Isn’t it great that cooking and eating certain dishes bring us closer to them, even though it’s in our mind…it’s precious.

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  • cooking this recipe now ^___________~ thanx just what i was looking for <3

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