Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs

I'm always looking for new ways to cook baby back ribs. As much as I love the taste of BBQ ribs, (which is probably the most popular and traditional way to prepare these bad boys), you can only eat so much of it before you start to get sick of it. When I first found this recipe for Sweet & Savory Pork Ribs from Chubby Hubby, I had come to believe that the answer to my rib cooking problems had been solved. Sure, my version didn't come out as caramelized as in the pictures of the original version, and I had to make a lot more of it because I like to have leftovers, but I think it turned out to be just as good, if not better!

I have very good reason to believe that the secret to this recipe's great flavor is all in the fish sauce. I must warn you, however, that it's a pretty potent liquid--catching a whiff of this stuff alone could make you run for the hills and never come back! But! Don't do it! It does smell pretty bad, I'm not going to lie. But if you turn on your blower and open all of your windows, you will be just fine. I'm not sure how to explain it, but cooking with it somehow transforms it into something so magically good and...surprisingly addicting. Getting your hands on some can be a little tricky though--you can find them either in the Asian section at your local grocery store, or at a specialty Asian market.

Between Ruben and I, this recipe makes enough food for at least a few dinners. And in my opinion, this is one of those dishes that only gets better with time. (You know, like chili or beef stew.) If you have the patience, try waiting until the day after you make these (or even the day after that) to try them--allowing the pork to sit in those juices for awhile only brings them closer to heaven. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you later. :)


(Adapted from Chubby Hubby)


2 Cups sugar
1 Cup water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 Cup fish sauce
2/3 Cup shallots
2 Teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 Pounds baby back pork ribs, membrane removed and separated into individual 'riblets'


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. 

Spread the sugar in the bottom of a wide heavy-based pot/dutch oven. Add 1/2 cup of the water and lemon juice.  Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the caramel boil until golden brown in color, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the remaining 1/2 cup of water as well as the fish sauce. (Be sure to open your windows for this step, it's about to get pretty smelly!) Bring to a boil, add the pepper and shallots, and bring down to a simmer for a couple of minutes. 

Add the baby back pork ribs, and stir to coat. Cover and braise in the oven on the middle rack for 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat around every 30 minutes.


Cook's Note:

To reheat the ribs, place it in the oven at 300 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.