The demise of the fortune cookie
While I was fine tuning this recipe and seeking inspiration, I've been working my way through Chicago's Chinatown, hitting the oriental groceries (deep fried guppies anyone?), and getting to know the local restaurant delivery boys.
Although the rib recipes varied quite a bit, one thing has been constant. Has anyone noticed that fortune cookies no longer tell a fortune? They no longer tell us what the future has in store for us. They no longer say "You will...", they say "You are...".
Sadly, fortune cookies now tell us meaningless aphorisms probably written by out of work speechwriters whose candidates have lost. Many "fortunes" even have smiley faces on them. A friend calls them "Proverb Cookies." And when did fortune cookie manufacturers start putting lottery numbers on them? Like the lottery is going to make me a fortune?
The only real fortune I have dug out of a cookie lately said, and I swear I am not making this up, "Within the coming 5 months you will find 3 missing socks." Alas, it's been at least a year. Never happened.
Here are some recent actual "fortunes" I've gotten.
I want to see fortune cookies that say things like this:
Pork by mail
2007 was the Chinese year 4708, the Year of the Pig, and China released stamps to commemorate the event. They are being sold on eBay. And no, they don't taste like sweet and sour pork.
Chinese Five Spice Riblets Recipe
These wonderfully flavorful half size rib nibbles make a great appetizer for a party. They are flavored with an aromatic Chinese spice mix, five spice powder.
To make these bite-size finger foods as a perfect party dish, the ribs are cut in half lengthwise at the butcher. They are marinated and deep fried to a golden color. If you don't want to fry, they can be braised, roasted, and barbecued.
Braised Riblets. Braise them by simmering them in the marinade in a Dutch oven or covered pot for 1 hour.
Roast Riblets. Spread the ribles on a broiler pan or wire grate above a pan and bake at 225°F for 4 hours, turning them once.
Barbecue Riblets. Roast them on a grill using indirect heat at 225°F for 4 hours. Use the techniques described here for gas grill and here for charcoal grill. Skip the wood smoke, it clashes with the other flavors.
Yield. 24-28 half riblets
Preparation time. 15 minutes
Marinating time. 2-4 hours
Cooking time. Frying takes 5 minutes per batch and a total of about 30-40 minutes
1 slab St. Louis cut spareribs (about 3 pounds). If you plan to fry the riblets, be sure to buy St. Louis cut spareribs because they are flat and baby backs are too curved to fry properly. Remember, St. Louis cut ribs have the rib tips removed. If you're not clear on the differences, see this article on the different rib cuts. Have your butcher cut the slab in half lengthwise with a bandsaw so that you have two mini slabs with bones that are only about 2-3" long. If you can't get this done by the butcher, cut the slab into individual bones and then cut them in half with a Chinese meat cleaver.
3 cups rice wine (you can use sake or any good dry white wine)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (or 1/4 cup distilled vinegar)
3 tablespoons five spice powder
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
4 teaspoons hot pepper sauce for mild heat, use more if you like it hot
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon corn starch
The crispy stuff
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
2-3 cups peanut oil for frying
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted lightly in a dry 12" frying pan
3 scallions, chopped into rings
1) Mix the marinade ingredients thoroughly in a non-reactive 1 to 2 quart bowl.
2) Skin and trim the ribs. Slice the two half slabs into individual mini ribs and submerge them in the marinade in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. No more.
3) When you are ready to start cooking, place the cornstarch on a plate and mix in the five spice powder, ground black pepper, and sugar.
4) Remove the ribs from the marinade and drain them in a strainer or colander, but do not rinse or dry them. Save 1 cup of the marinade.
5) Make the sauce by taking one cup of the marinade, whisk in 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch mix, and heat it over medium flame until it thickens, burbles, becomes translucent, and turn it down to the lowest temp. This will take only a few minutes and you can do it while the ribs are frying.
6) Roll the ribs around in the cornstarch mix until lightly coated. Set them on a clean plate. If you have a deep fryer, get it out and fire it up. If not, in a large, deep skillet (preferably cast iron), or Dutch oven, pour in the peanut oil until it is about 1 inch deep. Heat the oil to 375°F. Use a thermometer. Add half the ribs to the pan, but don't crowd them. They shouldn't touch or else they won't fry properly. Fry the ribs in two batches until golden all over, about 5 minutes. Drain them for a few minutes on a cookie pan covered with paper towels. Keep the first batch warm in a 250°F oven while you are frying the second batch.
7) Move the riblets to a serving platter, pour just enough sauce to lightly cover them, and sprinkle sesame seeds and chopped green onions on top.
This page was revised 4/13/2010
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