Chinese red braised ribs are one of the most flavorful ways to make ribs that I have experienced. While growing up in China, this dish has truly made a lasting impression on me and my fond memories of cooking with my family during Chinese New Year. It is a truly a symphony of sweet, savory, and umami notes all married perfectly together. I have given this ultimate comfort food of mine a modern twist: shorter time needed and soy free!

What is Red Braise (Hong Shao)?

Red braising, or “Hong Shao,” is a popular cooking technique that is loved by many Chinese families from Northern China, including my family.

To make this recipe, you will first simmer your sugar to the perfect caramelization before pork belly or spare ribs are added in.

Why Cook the Sugar?

Cooking the sugar is going to add a beautiful caramelization to the ribs. As the sugar caramelizes, It adds a hint of sweetness that balances the savory depth of the soy sauce.

It’s a match made in flavor heaven.

Once the ribs or pork belly have the beautiful shimmering golden brown caramelized sugar coating all over, the meat will braise for hours over low heat in a pot, along with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and other Chinese spices.

Your kitchen is going to start being filled with so many tantalizing flavors.

After searing the ribs in caramelized sugar, you will proceed to braising it in broth and more spices. This method of braising is going to give you the most complex flavor and melt-in-your-mouth meat that falls apart like butter.

My Modern Way to Shortening the TIme for Braising

This traditional method has been adopted and adapted through many generations in my family.

It has been modified to require less time, with the help of pressure cookers.

Because let’s be honest, when technology can help speed up the time I spend over a hot stove, I’m going to opt for the more efficient option, without compromising on flavor of course.

I used my instant pot to precook the ribs for just 15 minutes.

Then I seared the ribs over caramelized sugar and braised it for an additional half an hour or so.

It’s amazing how quickly this dish comes together, you’re going to be impressed by the time you save while still getting a flavorful and umami result.

A Recipe That Tastes Like Home

This Red Braised Ribs and Red Braised Pork Belly truly have a special place in my heart. For many Chinese families, red braised ribs are more than just a meal. It is usually served on special occasions, holidays and family gatherings. The smells evoke so many memories for me and I cannot wait to instill and share the love I have for this dish in my little ones.

Of course in the modern day society, they are not only for “special” occasions anymore, this dish still transcends generations, bringing people together to share a delicious and meaningful experience.

Beyond the Traditional Red Braised Recipe

While the core ingredients and techniques of red braising remain the same, there have endless variations on this classic dish.

Learned from my parents, I like to take the simpler approach with just onion, ginger and garlic. Cinnamon, Star anise were also traditionally used as part of the flavor profile.

But just like many of my Asian recipes, this red braised ribs can be tailored to your own taste and preferences.

Step By Step Instructions on How to Cook these Ribs:

Ribs are to be cut in the middle and separated from the rack.

Now the tricky part: Caramelizing sugar

Once the sugar is caramelized, immediately add the ribs

Tips for The Perfect Red Braised Ribs:

  • Have the spare ribs cut through the middle of the bone (so the bone is cut in half). The shorter and smaller rib the better chances you get caramelization all around it, soak up more flavors, and take less time to cook to desired tenderness.
  • Brown the meat before braising: Searing the ribs in caramelized sugar not only adds depth of flavor and helps to lock in the juices.
  • Don’t be afraid of simmering: Low and slow is the key to tender, flavorful ribs.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning: Cooking is not like baking. Cooking is an art, baking is a science in my opinion. There is no one size fit all in cooking, especially in Chinese cooking. So don’t be afraid to taste the sauce, add more coconut aminos, more salt or any other flavors that complete your taste preferences.

Where is the “Red”? Caramelization of Sugar

Caramelizing sugar (“Shao Tang”) is a decadent process. I will share all my experience, both successful and failed. Hopefully it can help you as you embark on this Red Braising journey of your own.

First, in big wok or deep pot add 3 – 4 tbsp of oil. I like using avocado oil, which has higher smoking point. Once the oil is shimmering, turn the heat to medium.

Next, you will add 3 tbsp cane sugar to the heated oil. The easiest way is to use rock sugar (bing tang), shown in the instructions above. Gently spread it across the oil and stir occasionally until the sugar turns into light brown.

Once the sugar is melted into brown liquid in the oil, continue to stir for a minute. Once you see the light brown is turning darker and starts to bubble, add the ribs in immediately.

Over-cooking the sugar can cause burning, and under-cooking the sugar can result in too much sweetness. The balance comes from the right amount of caramelization.

Trouble Shooting Your Red Braised Dish:

The most common issue for red braising is when sugar clumps together without melting or caramelizing. This can be due to not enough oil being used, the oil is not hot enough, or the sugar isn’t being stirred frequently enough.

Unfortunately, from my experience once the sugar clumps together, it cannot be melted anymore. You may need to start over.

How This Modern Method Saves Time

My grandma braises the ribs for hours to result in falling-off-the-bone meat. My mom, on the other hand, precooks the ribs in a big pot of water first to shorten the braising time.

And now as the recipe gets passed to me, I precook the ribs in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes. I’m not sure how my grandma feels about this shortcut, but a busy mom like me can’t afford to be tied up next to the stove for hours.

If I Must Tell you How to Eat

This is my personal twist; I love leaving a bit extra broth in these red braised ribs.

The reason I do this is because broth is incredibly flavorful and goes perfectly with a bowl of white rice, bread, vegetables, riced cauliflower or anything really.

Last but not least, I truly enjoy sharing my family recipes with you. Having it come to life and seeing all of your recreations. Leave a comment here with your questions or what you think!

Remember, the kitchen is a place for creativity and experimentation. So don’t be afraid to put your own spin on this classic recipe and make it your own. Happy Cooking!

Get the recipe:Chinese Red Braised Ribs {Hong Shao Pai Gu}

This Chinese red braised ribs recipe uses an instant pot to cut the cooking time but maintains amazing flavors and tenderness of the ribs.
5 stars (1 review)

Ingredients

  • 3 lb ribs, Cut in half across the bones
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tbsp onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 inch ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp Chinese five spices
  • 2-3 tbsp coconut aminos, or soy sauce

Red Braising

  • 1/4 cup cane sugar, regular or rock sugar
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2-3 tbsp soy sauce, low sodium
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp Lao Chou, dark soy sauce (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Liao Jiu, Chinese cooking rice wine (optional)
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed (optional)

Instructions 

How to Cook The Ribs

  • Get the ribs cut in half from the middle (so the bones are half of the normal length, this can typically be requested at meat counter in grocery stores)
  • Add the ribs in an instant pot with 1/4 cup of water in it. Season with chinese five spice and coconut aminos. Add chopped onion, ginger.
  • Seal and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the ribs from the pot and let it cool. Set the broth left in the instant pot aside for later.

Caramelizing the Sugar

  • Heat the oil in a wok (a large pan or pot works too) until shimmering and then add the sugar.
  • Cook the sugar over medium to high heat, continue to stir to create caramelization for 4- 5 min or until the color is amber. Make sure to stir constantly to prevent burning.
  • Once the color has turned amber- add in the ribs immediately.

Red Braising the Ribs

  • Cut the semi-cooled ribs into individual pieces.
  • Add ribs in to the caralized sugar and oil and stir for a couple minutes to get the carmalized sugar evenly coated around the meat.
  • Once meat has been coated well in the caramelized sugar, allow the meat to sear on both sides for about 1 minute, to get a crispy glaze.
  • Add minced garlic (if using any). Stir and let it release the aroma for another 2-3 minutes. 
  • Add the cubed potatoes and stir well.
  • Add 1.5 cups of broth which was set aside, coconut aminos, Lao Chou (dark soy sauce), Liao Jiu (rice wine), and salt to taste to the pot. 
  • Close the lid and cook for 25 – 30 minutes or until the sauce has been reduced to a thick, shiny, syrupy liquid. 
  • Enjoy!

Notes

* If you choose to use regular soy sauce, you can add less salt to taste.
Serving: 1g, Calories: 439kcal, Carbohydrates: 16g, Protein: 30g, Fat: 36g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 24g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 96mg, Sodium: 937mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 4g

The Nutrition Facts above are specific to the ingredients I chose to use for this recipe, which may vary.