While lamb is not commonly eaten in many parts of China, particularly in the south, this dish is a favourite in Hunan, where the ribs are often cooked over a sizzling metal plate. Hunan province, in southern China, is known for its spicy cuisine and for being the birthplace of Chairman Mao, who famously declared that “you can’t be a revolutionary if you don’t eat chillies”. These ribs are first braised until almost tender, and are then encrusted with a mixture of cumin and five-spice powder before being wok-fried with Sichuan peppercorns and chillies.
- 250 ml (1 cup) Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing) (see Note)
- 2 cm-piece ginger, thinly sliced, plus 4 cm-piece ginger, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 star anise
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon quill
- 2 x 1 kg racks lamb ribs, cut in half between ribs, silver skin and fat trimmed, vegetable oil, to shallow-fry
- 2 long red chillies, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 spring onions, sliced into 5 mm pieces
- 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns (see Note)
Soy and cumin marinade
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) soy sauce
- 2½ tbsp cumin seeds, toasted, ground
- 2 tsp potato flour (see Note)
- 1 tsp five-spice powder
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time 6 hours
Drink match 2013 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsula, Vic ($35)
Combine 4 litres water, Chinese rice wine, sliced ginger, soy sauce, star anise, sugar and cinnamon in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add ribs, reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until meat is just starting to become tender and pull away from bone. Drain and set aside to cool, then refrigerate for 5 hours or until firm. Trim and discard excess fat, and cut into single ribs.
To make marinade, combine soy sauce, cumin, potato flour, five-spice powder, 60 ml (¼ cup) water and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine then add ribs and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to marinate.
Heat 1 cm oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat to 160°C (or until a cube of bread turns golden in 20 seconds). Remove ribs from marinade, discarding marinade. Working in batches, and taking care as oil may spit, cook, turning occasionally, for 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Once all ribs are cooked, drain off oil, leaving 2 tablespoons in wok. Add chillies, garlic, finely chopped ginger, spring onions and Sichuan peppercorns and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Spoon mixture over ribs, toss to coat and serve hot.
• Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing), Sichuan peppercorns and potato flour are from Asian food shops.
Photography by Brett Stevens. Food preparation Phoebe Wood. Styling Kristen Wilson.
As seen in Feast magazine, July 2014, Issue 33.