I love finding things in stores that I’m not looking for because I don’t even expect to find them here in Mexico. I remember see some great recipes in the past that called for rock sugar (it’s also called rock candy but I prefer rock sugar, otherwise the thought of candy in my meat makes me gag) and I ‘un-pinned’ them because i thought I’d never be able to find it here.
Then, last week, as I was in a random store looking for party supplies, I saw this lonely stand of food items placed between Chinese lanterns and dishes. I saw these sweet potato noodles that my mom used to use at home all the time and pack in her suitcase whenever she was coming to Mexico. And this rock sugar. I didn’t even remember why I wanted it so bad, but I was surely not going to leave it on the shelf. Even better? Reasonably priced. Score!
I learned that rock sugar is used in Asian cuisine because it has a clear taste, with no caramel tones. Because it’s less sweet, it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor savory dishes as much as regular sugar would. It also gives the meat a shinier appearance (I agree, nothing was put on those ribs to shine them up!) and a more delicate flavor.
I came home and remembered that I had seen a recipe for ribs that I wanted to try. I am not a big rib lover or eater, but the rock sugar idea in it intrigued me. Of course, I had lost the recipe, so what’s a girl to do.
A lot of Asian flavors are similar, and we pretty much always have a pantry full of them, so I thought I would just play around with them. I was a little worried halfway through the cooking, as the rock sugar still seemed very sweet. But as it cooked along, the sweetness became less and less dominant and eventually, it became the perfect balance of flavors with the spices. The ribs fell off the bone and I will admit, I had to crop the picture more than I wanted because someone in my family who shall remain nameless kept picking at them despite my protests.
Next time you’d like some ribs, try these, they’re actually not hard to make, they just need some simmering time. I can lend you some of my rock sugar if you can’t find any.
- 2 kgs beef ribs
- 5 cloves garlic or more if you like
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 star anise
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup rock sugar, crushed (I obliterated mine in the blender)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Marinate the ribs in half the soy sauce for at least an hour in the fridge, up to a day.
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan at medium heat. Put garlic in oil and let soften for about a minute. Add spices and let the aromas release, about a minute. Put in the ribs and braise on each side until they have a nice brown crust, about 3-4 minutes a side. Add in remaining soy sauce, rock sugar, and water. Stir until sugar dissolves, and simmer for about an hour on medium-low heat uncovered, stirring every so often. Check frequently to make sure liquids aren’t completely dissolved. You can add more hot water if you like, even soy sauce if you find the sauce too sweet after an hour.
Remove from pan and serve with rice if desired.