Chinese Sweet and Sour Spareribs

Chinese sweet and sour spare ribs are marinated in a spunky and spirited elixir and then traditionally deep-fried before being devoured. We braise the sweetly sour ribs for a lovely velvetiness.

A bowl with three spare ribs glossed with a sweet-sour sauce, on top lime zest

Traditional Chinese sweet and sour spare ribs tend to be marinated in a spunky and spirited elixir and then deep-fried before being devoured. But author Grace Young likes prefers to pan-fry and then braise the sweetly sour ribs. These ribs are then finished with lime juice and butter, a trick Hong Kong chefs rely on to lend a velvetiness and even more sourness to the ribs. They literally disappear within minutes. Originally published May 5, 2004.Renee Schettler Rossi

Chinese Sweet and Sour Spareribs

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 3 H
  • Serves 2 to 4
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  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon Shao-Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean baby back pork spareribs, cut into single ribs
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup Chinkiang (Chinese black) or balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest, optional


  • 1. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, the sugar, cornstarch, rice wine, soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon oil. Add the spareribs and combine. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • 2. Pat the ribs completely dry with paper towels. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and carefully add the spareribs, meat side down, spreading them in a single layer in the wok. Reduce the heat to medium and fry, undisturbed, for 5 minutes, letting the spareribs brown. Then, using a spatula, turn the spareribs over and fry an additional 2 minutes.
  • 3. Carefully add the brown sugar, vinegar, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water to the wok and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the ribs meat side down. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Add the butter and lime juice and stir to combine. Garnish with lime zest, if desired.


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Recipe Testers Reviews

We loved the recipe. I made my ribs in a heavy Calphalon skillet and they cooked beautifully in about an hour. Finishing the sauce with butter and lime juice made it velvety and cut the sweetness a bit. It could serve four in a multi-course meal, but we all certainly wanted more.

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