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Vietnamese-style caramel pork ribs with pickled daikon and carrot salad

I remember eating these ribs for the first time in Ho Chi Min City over 30 years ago in a small barbecue restaurant off one of the main streets. I was in love with them and have been meaning to make this recipe for quite some time now.

The ribs fall off the bone tender, and the flavour is a bomb. the ribs are the perfect combination of sweet, spicy and tart. They are addictive and paired with the delicate salad; they are perfect. the salad helps cut the fat and flavours and each bite is a delight.

This is a new cookbook on my shelf, bought primarily for the Kuku Paka recipe. However, it is also loaded with absolutely amazing recipes from around the world. The recipes are admittedly exotic, but that also translates to being quite intense to make. But when the recipes turn out as well as this one, the effort is well deserved. I love the book, its flair, photography, and recipes, and I will cook from here often.

For more recipes from the fabulous cookbook, click here.


For the pickled salad:

2 large carrots

1 large daikon, peeled

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon caster sugar

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

For the caramel sauce and ribs:

1/4 cup caster sugar

1 flake star anise

1/2-inch cinnamon stick

10-12 black peppercorns

1/4 +1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate

3 tablespoons Chinkang Black vinegar or white vinegar

5-6 cloves garlic, minced

4-5 Thai chillies, minced

12 pork ribs

For the carrots and daikon radish, julienne or grate them. I like using a mandolin for even, long strips.

Mix all the ingredients for the salad and set aside for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Add the sugar, star anise, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and 1/4 cup water to a small pan. Bring to a boil and swirl to dissolve the sugar completely. Cook on low heat till the sugar forms a thick syrup and begins to turn a deep caramel colour, about 15 minutes. The mix will be very bubbly at this stage.

Add the water; be careful the caramel will spit and froth vigorously. Add the fish sauce, tamarind, vinegar, garlic and chillies. Mix well and bring back to a very slow simmer. Cook on low heat till the caramel forms again, and the consistency is like thick honey. Take off the heat and cool.

Mix in the ribs and marinate for at least 3 hours.

Turn on the oven to 250° C.

Arrange the ribs on a lined baking sheet and bake them with the juices. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour undisturbed. Remove the ribs and turn them over. Seal them again and bake for 90 more minutes. the ribs should be well cooked at this point, the meat caralemized with the glaze sticking to it and very soft.

Add a bit of the salad to a plate and top with a rib or two. Serve.

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