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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