Vietnamese Braised Pork Ribs

Anyone who’s traveled through southeast Asia is immediately transported back to the streets there by the ever-present aroma of meat sizzling away over live coals. Well this recipe scratches that itch, even though it’s been adapted for the harsh realities of our New England winters that just won’t give up (read: it’s made in an oven). Should you be made of sterner stuff or lucky enough to live in warmer climes, it can easily be prepared on the grill: just go low and slow and baste the ribs periodically with the marinade. Or follow along as written and then, at the broiling step, head outside to crisp the ribs over blazing hot charcoal. We use our baby back ribs here, which are meaty and tender, but you could make this just as successfully with spareribs or even country-style ribs, though you may need to increase the cooking time slightly.

Adapted from David Tanis in the New York Times

  • 2 shallots, sliced tin
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layer removed, sliced thin (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 inches ginger, sliced thin 
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • 1 T chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 3 t kosher salt
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 t five spice powder
  • 2 racks baby back ribs, about 3 to 4 lbs
  • Scallions, slivered, for garnish
  • Cilantro, mint, and thai basil sprigs, for garnish
  1. Pound the shallots, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger to a fine paste in a mortar and pestle. (Or, lacking a mortar and pestle and sufficient aggression to work out of your system, a food processor.) Stir in the soy sauce, fish sauce, chili paste, salt, sugar, and five spice powder to form a marinade.
  2. Put the ribs in a baking dish or roasting pan and add marinade. Rub the marinade all over the ribs with your hands. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Bring the ribs back to room temperature. Heat oven to 450°F. Add 2 cups water to the pan, wrap tightly with foil, and place in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then turn heat down to 350°F and cook for 1 hour more. The meat should be tender but not quite falling off the bone.
  4. Remove ribs from the pan. Strain the juices into a saucepan and skim off the fat. Reduce over high heat until thickened to your liking, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler with a rack placed about 6 inches below the heat.
  5. Transfer the ribs to a sheet pan and brush with the reduced cooking liquid. Broil until the ribs are nicely browned.
  6. Cut the racks into 2-rib pieces and arrange them on a platter. Garnish with scallions and herbs of your choice. Serve family style with rice and the reduced sauce from the ribs.
Dave Viola