Japanese Baby Back Ribs


These Japanese style pork ribs are a mouthful:
tender, sweet, salty, spicy, and sour.
The surprise is that they are not grilled (yakimono), but simmered on stovetop!
Nimono (simmered) dishes are an essential part of Japanese cooking. Meat, fish, or vegetables are simmered in a flavorful liquid (usually dashi) containing one or more of the basic flavors:
Sa Shi Su Se So
(satoh=sugar, shio=salt, su=vinegar, shoyu=soy sauce, miso=fermented soy bean paste).
Almost like music: do ray me fa so la te do 

Japanese-Style Braised SpareribsMy mother had to be economical in the kitchen. She always baked country style ribs with a ketchup-molasses sauce—big juicy meaty and impossible to eat with your fingers. I always wondered how pigs could have such oddly shaped ribs!
As a newly-wed on a short budget, I learned how to cook and even to work wonders in the kitchen. At the meat counter, I’d look over the slabs of ribs, noting the bone to meat ratio and how much less expensive the country style ribs were.
On occasion we’d be invited out to eat ribs, a restaurant or someone’s house. The only way I saw ribs cooked was grilled, and I always found them tough, dry, and messy.
In the past couple of years, I have worked my way through The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo. When I was first confronted with her recipe for spareribs braised with Japanese flavors I bought ‘real’ spareribs. (The first time I make a recipe I try to make it exactly as it is written.)
At last I found spareribs I enjoyed and I’ve posted about it 1 and 2.

The other day, I was very lucky to find baby back ribs on sale! Crazy good Japanese-style braised baby back ribs smell so wonderful as they cook that you should keep a tissue with you. To wipe off the drool while you wait.

Japanese-Style Braised Spareribs
Supearibu no Nikomi

The Japanese Kitchen
•250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo
page 437
serves 4

Marinate and Brown:

  • 1 ½ pounds pork spareribs, cut into individual ribs
  • 1 Tablespoon shoyu
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon toban jiang (Japanese chile-bean sauce)
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons honey
  • vegetable oil for browning the ribs

Marinate the ribs for 30 to 60 minutes. Remove ribs from marinade (discard the sauce). Heat a skillet, and add oil. Over medium heat, brown all sides of the ribs.

The Braise:

  • ¼ cup saké
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup water

Combine the above in a large pot, and add the browned ribs. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, covered, over low heat for 30 minutes. An otoshi-buta is a wooden lid made of cypress which floats on simmering liquid. It keeps the solid food pushed below the broth, and it prevents the liquid for boiling away too quickly.

  • 2 Tablespoons Shoyu
  • 3 Tablespoons komezu (rice vinegar)

Add the above ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Turn or baste the ribs several times. When the meat is tender, you can let the ribs cool in the sauce and refrigerate to finish later in the day. If you hold the ribs for later, warm them gently in the sauce.

The Greens:

  • 10 ounces chrysanthemum or spinach in a bunch with stems aligned
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

In a medium pot of salted boiling water with the sesame oil added, cook the stem end of the greens for 1 minute, then immerse the leaves for 1 minute. Drain and cool under cold running water.

I’m probably not the only one who doesn’t know the finer details of pork ribs, so here is a compilation of things I found online:
My mom’s country-style ribs are not true ribs: they are cut from the shoulder. They are lean and meaty, though I remember them having some “juiciness” from fat—note that pigs have been changed in the past 30 years and when I was growing up pork always had fat, no matter what the cut.
Spareribs are large and come from the part of ribs that curve around toward the belly. If one were to cut the whole rib cage away, remove the spine, the the spareribs would be the end part away from the back. They have a good amount of fat and flavor, and cost more than country-style but less than back ribs. There is a cut of ribs called St. Louis Style: the tips of the ribs are removed. I’ve never seen them but apparently they are sold in some places.
Back ribs, baby back ribs, or loin ribs come from the part of the rib cage nearest the backbones. They are shorter and more tender than spareribs, and because they are so popular, they are expensive. (baby back ribs may refer to only ribs of young hogs)
Tons of info about cooking great tender ribs on your grill, and a great diagram about ribs that finally explained things to me:

7 thoughts on “Japanese Baby Back Ribs

  1. Oooooh your ribs look so, so good and not at all fatty. Sometimes I have been seduced by rib recipes – they look sticky and sweet butI have no experience cooking them or shopping for them and they always seem too much fat and bone to meat. But these might tempt me to try again. Mmmm

  2. Oh, well, I would not call them health food!
    But I’ve not liked ribs before. Opt for the “make early, cool, refrigerate” so you can take off the congealed fat.
    I don’t know about pork in Australia but here in the U.S. they have been breeding hogs to be leaner and leaner. Still, not lean meat.
    But braising is so much more tenderizing than grilling.
    Not sticky sweet, but messy enough that you should eat these only with good friends and lots of napkins.

    • Maybe just strangers who will never see you again.

      But no, this recipe is too enjoyable not to share with good friends…

  3. But when I do anything silly in front of strangers I always see them again and then I know they are thinking she’s the one who…Then perhaps I am over thinking this. Better to cook and enjoy!

    We had our first hottish day today – a balmy 28 degrees. We attempted a swim but it was freezing. Reminded me of swimming in the North of England as a child and then being bundled into a wooly jersey and force fed hot, sweet tea….a very alarming way for an Australian to go about swimming. But a cold swim is character building, (apparently). Baby ribs would stick to the ribs tonight and fuel another swim perhaps tomorrow. The air is highly perfumed tonight, I can detect jasmine, broom, apple blossom, wisteria and some sort of flowering bush which wafts up to the window like honey. Spring is a drug!

    (Bluey has been for a swim too and he’s outside drying off but I can hear him headbutting the doggie door trying to come in. He’d love the smell of baby ribs braising)!

  4. May be “over thinking,” but sometimes talking to strangers is not a bad thing. Sometimes strangers are freedom: they don’t have notions about who you should be. I often feel confined by what family and friends think they know about me. I don’t have any expectations about strangers either. It’s possible to see ourselves from a different perspective then.

    Ah, but talking about sloppy food, or doing something foolish, I agree: you can run in to the same people again and again after you’ve made a fool of yourself.

    It is wonderful to hear about your first hot day! Yesterday was so cold here. I went to work without a jacket and was freezing during the drive to and from work. It was a surprise! Silly me: this happens every year, gets cold at this time. And as unfashionable, unsuitable as it is, I still try to wear my summer sandals.

    I grew up in northern Michigan and the swimming season (growing season) was very short. Swimming in any of the Great Lakes at any time of year is an act of bravery. The water is always cold!

    I saw my first junkos today. I see them in winter, but never in summer. And the cats paws whisper through dried leaves at the back door. The light is already thin in early evenings, and soon I’ll be coming home in the dark again.

    Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.
    Albert Camus

    Thank you for the reminder of spring!

  5. Pingback: Japanese Style Braised Pork Spare Ribs « And today?

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