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Ring in the Lunar New Year with a feast of Gluten-Free Char Siu Pork Ribs!
If baby-back pork ribs are your thing, then these gluten-free Char Siu pork ribs, also known as Chinese BBQ ribs, will make you weak at the knees!
After an overnight marinade in my homemade gluten-free Char Siu sauce, they are cooked slowly and basted lovingly over a water bath in the oven. The hallmark of Char Siu is the red colour around the pork, as well as it is glistening sheen and sweet aroma.
What does Char Siu mean?
Char Siu is a type of Cantonese roasted pork, traditionally skewered using long forks (Char means fork) and roasted (Siu means roast) over coals.
Char Siu Sauce
Sometimes spelt as Char Siew, this sauce is sold in jars at most Asian supermarkets. It is often referred to as a Chinese barbecue sauce as it typically contains honey, soy sauce, brown sugar and aromatic seasonings, found in many regular barbecue sauces. Added to pork cuts, it creates a perfectly charred, tender, sweet & savoury finish.
What sets Char Siu Sauce apart from the regular BBQ sauces are the following gluten ingredients that I have found a gluten-free substitute for:
Red Bean Curd
Also known as fermented tofu, bean cheese or tofu cheese. It is a flavour enhancer made from fermented soya bean curd that has been bean preserved in rice wine and other seasonings. Many have wheat or gluten soy sauce added. However, there are some hard-to-find brands that use rice and no soy sauce. Its deep red colour also gives the Char Siu sauce its typical brilliant red colour. As it is difficult to find gluten-free red bean curd, I have left this ingredient out in this recipe and added a few drops of red food colouring to the marinade and glaze.
Based on a fermented soya bean paste, similar to red bean curd, it is also a flavour enhancer to many dishes, especially in Char Siu dishes. It tastes sweet, pungent and rich, adding an amazing umami flavour. Typically, it is made using gluten ingredients such as soya sauce, but gluten-free Hoisin Sauce has become more readily available at Asian supermarkets. Alternatively, I have created a homemade gluten-free Hoisin Sauce that works well where needed in Chinese recipes, using uncomplicated ingredients.
This is a sugar syrup made from corn. In its natural state, it is gluten-free, but Chinese maltose contains gluten as it is fermented in barley grains. I have substituted this in my recipe with honey or golden syrup.
Luckily there are plenty of gluten-free soy sauces to choose from including the Tamari range.
A Chinese rice wine that is used often in cooking. Although it is made from rice, it is worth noting that there is also a small amount of wheat. Dry sherry works as a good gluten-free substitute.
As with all store-bought seasonings, always read the packaging for gluten ingredients before buying. Some seasonings have wheat flour added to bulk them up. If you prefer to make your own, head to this recipe using star anise, black pepper, fennel seeds, cinnamon and cloves.
What pork cuts are used with Char Siu sauce?
A trip to Chinatown in any city will typically greet you with appetising roasted meats such as Char Siu pork, chicken and duck hanging at the windows of Chinese restaurants.
The following cuts can be used to make delicious Char Siu from lean pork to fattier cuts:
Pork loin or fillet
Typically sold by weight either whole or chopped into thin pieces to be used in fried rice, noodle dishes or as part of a filling mixture in Char Siu Paus (Chinese BBQ Pork Steamed Buns). As this is a lean cut, it takes the least amount of time to cook and needs to be carefully watched while cooking so that it doesn’t become too dry and tough.
A decadent, but fatty choice. Used sparingly in cooking, it adds a definite wow factor to Chinese dishes.
Pork Shoulder or Butt
A popular choice to cook low and slow finished off under the grill or over hot coals.
As used in this recipe, this pork cut serves as a dish on its own. Perfect for barbecues, festive occasions and family dinners.
Why do I need to use a water bath during cooking?
There are a number of reasons it is a good idea to roast the ribs on a wire rack over a deep roasting pan filled with 4cm of boiling water:
- It prevents any meat and fat drippings from burning or smoking the tray below, which in turn could infuse the ribs with its acrid smell.
- Throughout the cooking and basting, the water develops a highly seasoned sauce from the marinade and pork juices.
- The steam generated from the water bath prevents the ribs from drying out.
- Cooking the slabs of ribs on the tray over the water bath means that it is not necessary to flip the ribs over.
How to serve Char Siu Pork Ribs
Serve the ribs whole or for practical purposes, slice the ribs apart for easier serving and eating.
Prepare some thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and chillies to decorate the platter as well as fresh coriander leaves.
Use the reduced basting water to create a dipping sauce for that extra flavour and sauce for the ribs.
Of course, who can resist a bowl of steamed Jasmin rice to mop up the sauce!
Don’t forget to serve the ribs with several finger bowls and plenty of serviettes for those sticky fingers!!
Gluten-Free Char Siu Pork Ribs (Chinese BBQ Ribs)
- 4 racks baby-back pork ribs
GLUTEN-FREE CHAR SIU MARINADE
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp store-bought five-spice powder or homemade five-spice powder
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp sherry
- 2 tbsp Tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
- 3 tbsp gluten-free Hoisin sauce or homemade Hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp treacle or molasses
- ¼ tsp red food colouring (optional)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp runny honey or golden syrup
- 1 tbsp water
- A drop of red food colouring (optional)
- 100 ml roasting pan basting mixture (collected after the ribs have been cooked)
- 1 tsp cornflour Known as cornflour in the UK and corn or maize starch in the USA
- ½ cucumber, sliced thinly
- 1 spring onion, sliced thinly
- ½ fresh red chilli, sliced thinly
- A handful of fresh coriander leaves
Marinating the ribs
- Blend all the marinade ingredients together in a food processor or with a stick blender.
- Wipe the ribs dry with paper towels and place them in a suitable glass or ceramic dish that fits the ribs.
- Pour the marinade over the ribs and using your hands (wearing disposable gloves) massage the marinade into the ribs. Cover and chill for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight if time permits.
Cooking the ribs
- Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.
- Place a wire rack over a deep roasting tray. Grease the wire rack before placing the ribs on them with the meat side facing up.
- Add 4 cm of boiling water to the deep roasting tray.
- Place the ribs in the oven on the middle shelf to cook for 20 mins.
- Cover the ribs with foil and return to the oven to cook for 45 mins. Top up the roasting tray with more water if needed.
- Every now and then, baste the ribs with the water from the roasting pan. This water will become highly seasoned by the marinade and the ribs.
- Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F. Baste and cook for 10 mins.
Glazing the ribs
- Combine the honey or golden syrup and water in a small pot and heat over medium heat, stirring until the glaze mixture becomes syrupy.
- Brush this glaze over the top of the ribs and cook for a final 10 mins.
Making the dipping sauce
- Collect some of the reduced roasting pan basting mixture and sieve this into a small saucepan to heat up on medium-high for 5 mins, removing any oil that floats to the top with a spoon.
- Mix the cornflour with some of the basting mixture in a small bowl and add this slurry to the pan to thicken the mixture. Simmer for 5 mins before pouring the sauce into a serving bowl.
Serving the ribs
- Once the ribs are cooked, cover the ribs and set them aside to rest for 10 mins before slicing and serving.
- Serve the ribs with fresh cucumber slices, sliced spring onions, fresh coriander and some cut up red chillis. Use the prepared sauce to dip the ribs in for extra flavour.
- Keeps for 3 days.
- The ribs can be reheated covered in foil for 10 mins in a moderate oven.
- The dipping sauce can be reheated gently in the microwave.
- Not suitable to freeze.