1 rack of higher-welfare pork belly ribs, trimmed of excess fat (1.5–2kg)
3 tablespoons Chinese five-spice
2 spring onions
2 fresh chillies
1 bunch of radishes
For the glaze:
3 red onions
3 star anise
1 level teaspoon Chinese five-spice
4 tablespoons fresh apple juice
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Having super-tender fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, shining with a sticky Chinese glaze, always excites me. I remember when I first tried ribs like these – I was about 7 or 8 years old, having a family meal at our local Chinese restaurant, and I remember thinking wow – I’d never tried anything like that before. Bundled with other great dishes like noodles and stir-fried rice, it was beyond exciting. My face and hands were absolutely covered in sauce and that’s how you should be after tucking into these little beauties. Get stuck in.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas 3. Get yourself three layers of tin foil, 1-metre long. Place the ribs in the centre, drizzle them with oil and rub all over with the five-spice and a good pinch of sea salt and pepper. Seal into a tight parcel and pop onto a tray in the middle of the oven for 3 hours, or until just tender and cooked through.
Meanwhile, for the glaze, peel and slice the onions and put them into a frying pan on a medium heat with a lug of oil and the star anise. Cook for 15 minutes, or until soft and starting to caramelise, stirring occasionally. Stir in the five-spice for 2 minutes, stir in the rest of the glaze ingredients and leave to bubble away for another 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool a little. Fish out the star anise, transfer the mixture to a blender and blitz until smooth, loosening with a splash of water, if needed, then pass through a fine sieve so it’s super-super-smooth. Have a taste and season if required. Trim the spring onions and deseed the chillies, then finely slice both lengthways and put them into a bowl of ice-cold water so they curl up. For a laugh you can randomly score the radishes and pop them into the water for a bit of a naff 80s feel; otherwise, leave them whole or cut them into quarters.
When the time’s up, transfer the ribs to the tray, discarding the foil, and turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Brush a good layer of glaze over the ribs and return them to the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, then I like to keep brushing on glaze and popping them back into the oven every minute after that for a few more minutes, to build up a really good layer of dark, sticky glaze. Serve the ribs with a bowl of any leftover glaze for dunking, and with the radishes, chillies and spring onions on the side.