Friday, April 17, 2009

Chinese Spare Ribs

When I eat at a new Chinese or Asian buffet I look to see how the spare ribs are prepared. Chinese spareribs are one of the comfort foods from a youth of Chinese restaurant meals with the family. In the days when every Chinese restaurant served family-style meals by selecting one from column A and one from column B for two and increasing the number of selections from a column by the number of people that you were ordering for. Spareribs were generally a column A item - which consisted of the "lesser" dishes. Selecting spareribs as a choice resulted in a small order of ribs brought to the table - less than half a rack and perhaps, enough for one or two ribs per person of a family of four. Ordering spareribs instead of one of the entree dishes in column A - perhaps lo mein or chow mein - meant foregoing a greater quantity of food to share. In my family, spareribs were a rare selection. The result at our tables when we had spareribs - and at many surrounding tables that were indulging in this treat - was the knawing and sucking away of every bit of meat on the bones and relishing each morsal. At the time - back in the day - these were the only ribs that we knew in the Northeast USA. Barbecue, as it is known today, was not wide-spread out of the regions that it originated. Barbecuing to us was getting out the round, flat grill on a stand on wheels in the backyard, pouring in the charcoal, soaking it in enough started fluid to cause a huge burst of flame when a match was thrown in and then charing meat on the rails of the grill. In other parts of the country folks were slow smoking meats and creating the barbecue that we know now all over - but not in the Northeast (and probably several other parts of the country).

Chinese spareribs are different from barbecue spareribs. They are not slow cooked but rather cooked quickly under a high heat in a broiler. They are generally cut into individual ribs before serving and the meat on the ribs remains firmly attached to the bones. Barbecue ribs are cooked with a low heat in a smoker for many hours - wet basted or dry rubbed (or a combination of both) with seasonings. The ribs when done right have meat that just falls away from the bones. The flavors and eating experience between Chinese ribs and "real" barbecue ribs are vastly different.

Most Chinese buffets - for some reason - diverted from the traditional ribs that were (and perhaps still are - I have not been to a menu Chinese restaurant for many years) cooked dry and served for you to add your own condiment choice of hot mustard or sweet duck sauce and now want to serve them thickly coated in a syrupy red, overly sweet sauce. They are then placed into a serving pan full of more of this red syrup. To my taste these are too sweet and far from the Chinese ribs that I loved growing up. This recipe for ribs is almost universal at Chinese buffets lately. I had an opportunity once to see how this sauce is created. It comes from a large plastic jug that was labeled red sugar sauce. It has the consistence of thin fruit juice and looks like thin fruit punch. It is simply poured into a wok to thicken into the syrup that then covers the spareribs or pork chunks which when served will be called boneless ribs.

So, as I started, I am always looking at Chinese buffets to see those wonderful, traditional Chinese spareribs of my youth. I have found them at one restaurant - and happily, it is one that is somewhat local to me. If you live on or near Long Island, New York or you are passing close by while traveling and you want to find the BEST Chinese spareribs - traditionally cooked Chinese spareribs then you have to go to the Good Taste Buffet in Commack, New York.

I have written about the good food at the appropraitely named, Good Taste Buffet before. Do a search of the archives of this site to read the articles about the restaurant. I have mentioned the ribs before but I want to sing their praises now. In some Chinese buffets people rush up to the buffet servers when a new tray of crab legs or lobster is brought out. At the Good Taste Buffet there is a rush to the buffet server when a new tray of spare ribs is brought out - and this restaurant does a good job in keeping up with the demand. The ribs come out sizzling, the fat on the top of the rib cooked away to a leave a tasty top layer of slightly charred meat that is more charred at the bottom under the bone. The look, smell, and taste exactly as those ribs of those Chinese restaurants of my youth. The meat is thick over the bone with a wedge of meat at the front. Other than the moisture of the meat they are dry - no sauce. There is plenty of duck sauce or hot mustard at the condiment area to take and dip them in - if you need to make them sweet or spicy hot. They really do not need anything on them. They taste great all on thier own. As diners at the restaurant pick through the largest and best ribs to take from the serving tray what is generally left are the ribs that are well charred and if you don't mind crunching the well-cooked, blackened meat from the bones these are good too.

This restaurant is actually some distance from my home but business on occassion take us to this area and I always try to work out my stops for the day to end near enough to this restaurant for dinner time. Despite all of the other good things served at this buffet, my main reason to go is for these spareribs and most of my meal consists of eating ribs. Once there I am tempted by the other dishes, but when I see those ribs - and see a fresh tray of ribs brought out I have got to have them.

I have considered establishing a special Best Buffet Ribs award to be given from this site - but this restaurant would be the only one to get it. No one makes better Chinese spareribs at a buffet - that I have found so far, and I have tried Chinese buffets up and down the East Coast. I have not really found good real barbecue ribs at a buffet that were really good or compared closely to barbecue from a real barbecue menu restaurant. Long ago, OCB had a summer feature with baby back ribs that were really good - but those are gone and seemingly lost forever. The newest "St. Louis" ribs at OCB are not that good - with no sauce, a just a seasoned pork roast taste and obviously cooked in an oven.

Some people may like ribs covered in thick, gooey, melted, red colored sugar. I just pass those by. Around here, if I get a taste for ribs it is off to Good Taste Buffet.

Good Taste Buffet is located at 200 Jericho Turnpike, Commack, New York and the phone number is 631-543-9583. There is no website.

If you know of another buffet that serves traditional Chinese ribs - as I have described here without the gooey red sauce or coating - please leave a comment and tell us where it is. If you know a buffet that serves good barbecue please leave a comment and tell us about it and where it is too. No matter where they are, share them with us!

No comments: