Shanghainese Baby Back Ribs

My mother sent me back with this gigantic rack of baby back ribs — see why I like going back home so much? Haha :) I decided to be inventive and created a unique bbq sauce made from “Jiu Nian” or Fermented Rice.  It turned out  to be FINGER-LICKIN good delicious! I did a dry rub first and then simply “braised” them in the oven, then finishing cooking by generously covering the ribs in my yummy bbq sauce and baking at a high heat so the sauce can caramelize.   I think good ribs are succulent, messy and fall off the bone tender, which is exactly what this recipe entails.  Forget forks and knives kiddos, these ribs are best when you dig in with your hands and lick off all the saucy goodness afterwards!

Ingredients for Shanghainese Baby Back Ribs:

Dry Rub

  • 2 tablespoons Ginger Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese 5 Spice Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Ground Cloves
  • 2 tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar


  • 4 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup Shao Hsing rice cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Jiu Nian or fermented rice

Rinse off the rack of ribs under cold water and pat dry.  Combine the ingredients for the dry rub in a medium bowl and mix well.  Generously place the mixture all over the meatier side of the ribs, so this ensures maximum flavors are soaked in.  Allow rack to marinate for at least an hour in the fridge, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 250F.

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients for the braising mixture.  If the rack of ribs are too big to fit in your roasting pan, simply just cut them in half like I have.  Take two large sheets of aluminum foil and create packets for the racks of ribs to fit in.  You can do this by laying the rack of ribs on one half of the foil sheet and folding the other half over, then seal the sides closed so no braising liquid leaks out during baking, be sure to leave an opening for the braising liquid.  Pour the liquid into the packets and seal them tightly — it is very important no liquid leaks out when baking in the oven — the braising process makes the ribs nice and tender.   Place the packets in a roasting pan and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.

Once the ribs are done braising, carefully take the packets and empty the braising liquid into a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Return the ribs to the roasting pan and cover with foil and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat the braising liquid at medium high heat and reduce the mixture until it is syrupy in consistency.  This will be your bbq sauce, taste and make any changes to your preference accordingly.  (Add more salt? more heat? more sugar?)  Change the oven temperature to broil and uncover the ribs and return to oven, generously brush the ribs with the bbq sauce.  Repeat process 3-4 times, in 5 minute intervals, until the ribs are entirely covered in the sauce.  The “broil” function in the oven should further caramelize the sugars and even add a “crispy” texture to the ribs.

Remove the ribs from the oven, give it one last generous brush with the bbq sauce and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.  You can eat it alone or serve it with some steamed white rice.  I also added some grilled pineapples as a “side” and it went together beautifully.   Does anyone else think that food tastes better when you eat it with your hands?  Because I sure do :) Licking off the sweet and spicy sauce that covered my fingers (and probably a good portion of my face) made these ribs all the better.  I invited my good friend Eric to share this meal with us and all three of us were happily stuffed, without a rib to spare.  Granted, Collin was a little unhappy about not having any leftovers, I took it as a sign of success! My honey definitely has a strong affinity towards ribs, I am not sure how it developed but it is intense to say the least.  He has woken up from a deep slumber before because he heard me asking friends  ” Would anyone like any leftover ribs?”, immediately he appeared in the room and in a deep thunderous voice exclaimed “WHY ARE YOU GIVING AWAY MY RIBS????” — I definitely made sure not to make that mistake again…

I would also like to dedicate this post to the stranger who performed a random act of kindness for me and my friend today.  She unfortunately had a flat tire, and GRANTED we did get a KILLER deal on some used tires — collectively we had NO idea as to how to change a flat (I got a splinter lodged into my thumb just by picking up the stupid tire).  I honestly hope my dad never reads this post, because he’s taught me several times just in case it ever comes in handy…like today.  I guess cars to women is like women to men — it is just something we will never come to understand, or try to.  BUT, thankfully a nice Hispanic guy who was driving by stopped and offered to give us a hand.  It was probably due to the fact that both my friend and I looked completely helpless and confused, but that is besides the point.  I am just thankful to know that people are nice enough to stop and lend a helping hand, his kind gesture really made my day.  I guess it inspired me to be more helpful throughout my day, a simple act of kindness always goes a long way and many times I find it to be contagious :)   So thank you stranger, for your kindness and consideration — without your help we’d probably still be stuck out there figuring out how to unscrew this bolt thingy using the tire handle thingy.

I hope you guys enjoy this one, I was really impressed by the bbq sauce.  The fermented rice really brought out a different type of sweetness, and it had a nice lingering bite from the crushed red chiles in the dry rub.  Til next time, stay warm, eat lots and be merry!


  1. Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Joy! :)

    this looks soooo good! I happen to have a rack of ribs in the freezer..(just bought it yesterday).. I’ll see if I can find fermented rice… or is there a good substitute for it? or is it okay if I just omit it? sorry for asking too many qs..

    I agree..the best way to eat this is by hand..YUM! :)

    • Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Hey Olive! You can definitely omit the fermented rice and just use cooking wine as a substitute — I hope it turns out fabulous!! Please don’t hestitate to ever ask me any questions, I am always here to help :)

  2. Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Joy, this looks absolutely delicious!! I like to use Chinese five spice powder for my ribs, too. It gives an interesting flavor. I’m not familiar with Jiu Nian. I will look for it next time I go to an Asian grocery store (assuming it’s Chinese…).

    • Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Reiko! Jiu Nian is pretty interesting the rice has a very “winey” and sweet taste, it is also used in a lot of sweet desserts in Shanghainese cuisine. Hopefully you will find it and be able to try it and tell me what you think :)

  3. Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh I’m shanghainese, but my mama never made these! I’m gonna ask her, these look yummy!

    • Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! You know my mom never made these either but she used this sauce a lot when she would make shrimp or pork short ribs — just stole the sauce and slapped it on some ribs hee hee hee. I can’t believe you’re Shanghainese — what a small world!!! I think you are probably the 3rd person I’ve met in my lifetime aside from my family that is from there :) Have you been back recently?

  4. Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joy, thanks for visiting our site! Those ribs look finger, hand, and face licking good. Random acts of kindness should be practiced endlessly :)

    • Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the kind words, I am so happy to meet you! And yes, I agree. Random acts of kindness should be practiced endlessly!!

  5. Posted 7 Dec ’09 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Those ribs really are mouth watering, must certainly try it.

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much! Nice to meet you Cheah :) !

  6. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Thank you for visiting sjgourmet! I hope to see you again soon! I adore asian food and am a frequent visitor to china town, the majority of my wedding party were from different part of Asia and their mothers would cook for us often! It was always soooo good!
    I am looking forward to reading some amazing recipes from your site.

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I will definitely be a regular Sarah! And that is awesome you are such a fan of asian food, it is a pleasure to meet you!!

  7. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Wow the ribs look fall off the bone good! I like all the spices you added to the rub.

  8. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    This looks real finger-licking good. I would love it too and lick everything clean….yum. And…oh….how sweet of the stranger to change tyre for you. That’s really kind of him. If he reads this post, I’m sure he will ask you to cook this for him :D

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      hahaha! you are so funny Mary :) Thank you for your kind words I really would’ve given him some too! hahaha

  9. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Wow! That looks very very succulent! I would not mind going home if I had food like that to take home to cook.

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      hahaha thanks penny — I should go home more often, every time my mother just stuffs a cooler full of awesome food and “forces” me to take it back with me

  10. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Mmm…looks really tender and delicious~~yum~~yum..

  11. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Your food photos are stunning, from foodie to foodie, your blog is full of wonderful things!

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Aw baobabs your comment made my day :) Thank you for that!

  12. dhaleb
    Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Love the new look! The blue looks so calming! And these ribs look so yummy! My bf and I recently tried Shanghainese food and it;s awesome. Do you have any recipes for the soup dumplings? We’re addicted!

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      COOL!! Wow you guys are so lucky to have Shanghainese food it is absolutely unheard of here. Are you talking about the dumplings they make in the steamer? Because if you are…i have NO CLUE as to how to make them hahahaha I will ask my mother!

  13. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    hey!!!I love the new look of your page and the ribs look so succulantly delicious. Excuse me for just a moment, i’ve got to clean my computer screen off, I shouldn’t have licked it thinking I could taste the ribs.

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks David!! HAHAHA i laughed so hard when I read your comment — you are absolutely hilarious. Thanks for brightening up my mood :)

  14. Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Those look so good!! I’ve never had Shanghainese ribs but now I definitely want to try them. Mmmm thats the best when the meat is super tender and falls of the bone :)

    • Posted 8 Dec ’09 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Claire I AGREE! hahaha tender ribs are heavenly…

  15. Geoff J
    Posted 10 Dec ’09 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Wowie wow wow – Those look amazing!

  16. Posted 11 Dec ’09 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    You girls are lucky to have some one nice for help! And be very thankful! SO.. I suggest you to give this ribs away to that helpful guy… hahaha….. Or can you??? I’m not so sure! haha…

  17. Posted 11 Dec ’09 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this one. I haven’t even tasted it yet. The photos does speak for itself. I think it’s asking me eat these ribs.

  18. Posted 11 Dec ’09 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Pardon me but I just had a mouthgasm…. all that extreme close up of pork!

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