Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Rib Recipe

uncookedribs.jpg ribsdone.jpg

Let me brag here a bit—my kimchi was a huge success…although I’m still giving it a few more days of fermentation before I go ahead and chill it. I could hardly taste it four hours later as opposed to living and breathing the taste of kimchi for the next two days.

I loved reading all your feedback and comments since although Korean is one of my favorite cuisines, I think it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. And judging from your responses, apparently I’m not the only one!

In addition to being a little gaga for Korean food lately, I’m also on a caramelizion kick, craving anything with caramel. Ribs, tarts, cookies, cakes, frostings…you name it, I’m gonna caramelize it. But hold on to your hats—I have the ultimate caramel dessert coming up sometime later this week.

As mentioned, I’d bookmarked the recipe for Vietnamese Pork Ribs in Caramel Sauce over at Chubby Hubby, and let me tell you, folks, this recipe is a winner.

What doesn’t it have going for it?
Let’s see…

You begin with an inexpensive cut of meat and after about 15 minutes worth of work, you pop the whole thing in the oven for a couple of hours, then pull out a roasting pan with a jumble of the most succulent caramelized ribs that took almost no effort.

I don’t need to reprint Aun’s version of the recipe, since I pretty much followed the one at his site.


But I did make a few changes and had some observations:

  • I doubled the recipe and didn’t have the charcutier cut the ribs lengthwise, as advised. I might next time, since they’d probably be easier to eat with chopsticks.

  • I made the ribs a day in advance, then chilled them. Not only did it make my dinner party easier, by the second day, I was able to easily skim off the considerable fat that had hardened on the surface.

  • Since I doubled the recipe, I had a bit of a hard time caramelizing the sugar evenly in my roasting pan since it’s much wider than the stovetop burner. So gently rock the pan back-and-forth to distribute the sugary syrup as it cooks to caramel. Or cook it in a separate pan and add it to the roaster if you double it, like I did.

  • I roasted my ribs in the oven. The recipe says they’ll take 90 minutes on the stovetop, but since I doubled the recipe (which originally feeds 2—and I was, like…serves 2?), I increased the cooking time to a total of about 2½ hours. The oven should be low enough so they’re just simmering gently; not boiling like mad. Otherwise they’ll be as tough as superballs. And no one likes tough ribs.

  • Open the window! More than anything, when you pour the fish sauce into the hot caramel, it’s gonna send up a big stinky cloud of fermented anchovy steam. I didn’t mind the smell so much, but this morning, after my rendez-vous with my banker, she told me on the way out that I smelled a little funny. So I need to do a little bit of laundry, I guess.

  • Next time, I’m gonna punch it up with some minced ginger and more pepper. The ribs had a lovely sweet-salty taste, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more zing to them. I would imagine adding something spicy, perhaps a bit of chile paste, might liven things up. Some black Chinese vinegar wouldn’t hurt either and I’m adding a pour of that as well.

    And the one thing I wasn’t expecting, even though many of you warned me would happen: I used up quite a bit of my kimchi. My guests were a multi-mix of Swiss, Italian, and French, and I was expecting them to shy away from the curious ‘pickle’ in the funky jar on the counter. I tried to get a picture of the expression on a Parisian friend’s face when he took a sniff from the open jar, but I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough.

    Still, almost half of it was gobbled up by the end of the evening and I’m off to the Korean market this week to get more ingredients for another batch.

    And this time, I’m not holding back on the chili paste.
    Bring it on!


    (The recipe was adapted from Molly Steven’s book All About Braising.)


    For those looking for a recipe, you can find my Braised Short Rib Recipe at this link.

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    • February 4, 2008 12:40pm

      This all sounds wonderful and drool-worthy. I’m going to have to follow along in your trail and make up a batch of those ribs, they look amazing. And yes, your newsletter looked great in my gmail inbox. Thanks!

    • February 4, 2008 1:09pm

      Thanks David! I’m a Chubby Hubby big fan and reader. Korean food is so yummy, I miss so great addresses I had back in the bay area. In France I haven’t seen a lot of Korean places … sadly …

    • Susan
      February 4, 2008 1:37pm

      Those Vietnamese caramelized ribs look totally irresistible! Hmm, am I sensing a theme in recent postings? Related to an upcoming book, maybe?

      BTW, my Mac mail client read your newsletter as 12-point but it looks really small for 12-point. Granted, my eyes are getting old, but even with glasses it looks small. MacMail thinks your site is in 14-point; is that right?

      I guess standardization on the Web has a ways to go.

    • Heather
      February 4, 2008 2:52pm

      I want to make these ribs but my boyfriend hates the Fish sauce. Is there anything else I can use…I am going to try the extra ginger and pepper and probably the chinese vinegar.


    • February 4, 2008 3:30pm

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t think they’ll be coming out with eau de fish sauce any time soon:) I think fish sauce an integral ingredient in Viet cooking and I can’t imagine using a substitute. I’ve noticed that anchovy steam seems to linger on your clothing and skin even longer than cigarette smoke.

      How about adding lemongrass to marinade?

    • February 4, 2008 3:36pm

      David, I made a similar thing after reading a post at Sunday Night Dinner. Delicious! In that recipe, they used lemongrass, which I think adds that little extra something something.

      I have a friend whose mom wears a lab coat when stir-frying to keep the pungent aromas off her clothes. Maybe something to look into? :-)

    • Steve
      February 4, 2008 4:49pm

      I wonder whether your stinky neighbor has his own blog where he writes about HIS neighbor who always has unusual smells emanating from his apartment.

    • February 4, 2008 4:54pm

      Steve: LOL!!! (That was funny..thanks for cracking me up…)

      Babeth: Yes, Korean food isn’t widely known here. Japanese food (the real stuff, not those icky sushi chains) is becoming more prominent, so maybe Korean is next.

      Heather: I bet water mixed with a little soy sauce and vinegar, in the same proportion, would be great too.

    • Ann
      February 4, 2008 8:34pm

      I’m Vietnamese and a huge fan of caramelization, and I think the best preparation in the world is with a fillet of catfish in a clay pot. Oh my goodness, so delicious. I’ll have to find you a good recipe for that.

      Another thing that I like to do for a really quick meal is to add about a tablespoon or two of sugar to a pan, let it get all brown and caramelized, then add in a diced onion, and ground turkey or pork, and season with a LOT of black pepper and fish sauce to taste. Simple but tasty preparation that takes two seconds to put together. And it goes with everything…from rice, as a salad topper, in porridge…

    • Cecilia
      February 4, 2008 9:12pm

      OHHHhhhhh yummmm…. I LOVE LOVE to have that as my dinner today ….ohh…carameli-sed RIBS!! Good lord I must be in heaven :)

      psstt… do u love korean bbq ribs?!! If yes .. pls hope over to SteamyKitchen

      Just TRUST ME…TRUST ME … it’s sooo good!! Nothing out of a jar could taste that good! :)

    • February 5, 2008 12:35am

      You were wise to braise the ribs in the oven, David. The problem with stovetop braising is it’s difficult to keep the cooking temperature low enough to avoid drying out [and toughening up] the meat.

    • KatyBelle
      February 5, 2008 12:51am

      The font on the newsletter was fine for me, but then I have a Mac laptop, so my perception might be a little skewed.

    • Murasaki Shikibu
      February 5, 2008 1:04am

      Font size was great and so was the layout!

      I started using reading glasses about 1 year ago and I’m really beginning to feel the strain when I have to read small print :p

    • February 5, 2008 5:01am

      Hi David,
      This is totally unrelated to this post (although the ribs and kimchee do sound yummy), but after reading your FAQ, I decided to put a question here instead of emailing you.

      This is a general cake/frosting question. My husband and I are good at cooking almost everything, but simple cakes elude us. The crumb is too big and the texture verges on being rubbery, and it doesn’t seem to matter what recipe we are using. Can you give me any hints to make a nicely textured, small-crumbed cake (a quatre-quarts or genoise)?

      I am thinking that there is a temperature issue with the butter when creaming (too warm/cold/soft hard- gets over creamed?), but need to dig out my McGee to be absolutely sure (I started reading it from cover to cover, made it to fruits and veggies, and then life stepped in and I put it down somewhere in our house).

      This last time our (okay- HIS- it wasn’t me this time!) buttercream frosting was greasy as well, which is why I thought it may be a temp issue. He brought the butter out of the fridge and put it directly in the mixer bowl. When I asked if he was going to soften it, he said that the beating would soften it. I disagreed- funny how one can argue over something so silly! Anyway it ended up with a gritty texture (even though we used sucre glace) and greasy mouthfeel.

      Thank you from Lyon, France for any advice or hints you can give!

      Cheryl Stauffer

    • Carolyn
      February 5, 2008 7:45am

      Got your newsletter — thanks for all of the hard work you put into it!

      The font was fine for me, but I’m guessing going a little smaller might work better. (and with the photos, too.) My resolution is 1280×1024 and it still was a little on the large size.

      But I loved it and the pix! Thank you again for all that youdo!

    • February 5, 2008 8:26am

      Cheryl: Since you live in France, the ingredients are different if you’re baking from an American cookbook. Check out my post American Baking in Paris. Greasy buttercream may be a result of the higher butterfat in French butter.

      As for cake textures, use room temperature butter and really beat it well to aerate it. But don’t beat the batter with the flour; that’ll build gluten and you’ll get a tough cake.

      Next time you head to the states, you might want to pick up a copy of The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. It’s the best book on cakemaking I know of…author Flo Braker is a whiz in the kitchen

    • rosasharne
      February 5, 2008 10:32am

      David, I made these last night and my boyfriend plotzed. Score. First time ever making ribs. Thanks!

    • Gael
      February 5, 2008 11:54am

      That reminds me that I need to eat some ‘thit kho’ for the Vietnamese New Year.

    • Alexandra
      February 5, 2008 12:07pm

      Those look sooo good!
      Must go out for Korean at lunch today…now!

    • Dana
      February 5, 2008 12:36pm

      I can’t believe I missed you on Sirius yesterday!! I’ll have to try to catch the replay when it airs something this weekend…

    • February 5, 2008 4:11pm

      I’ve only made ribs once before and while it turned out to be pretty easy I’m still a little gun-shy that I’ll muck ’em up. I think giving these a shot might dispel some of that fear though. Damn I wish I hadn’t already eaten lunch… I live across the street from a Korean BBQ. Damn, damn, damn.

    • February 5, 2008 5:02pm

      I, too, made these after seeing CH’s post and A) totally agree that the caramel-meets-fish-sauce moment sent a giant plume of fishiness all around my kitchen and B) the ribs were AMAZING. Even better the next day and the next day after that. This is one of those dishes that has so much complexity you can’t believe how simple it is.

    • Linda H
      February 5, 2008 8:51pm

      I liked the larger print of your recent newsletter….but then, I’m nearsighted.

    • February 5, 2008 10:49pm

      Caramelizing meat before stewing and braising is just perfect. I love “Red Cooked Pork,” a Chinese dish braised in a soy sauce based liquid. I always like to caramelize the pork first although many recipe call for the pork to be boiled first. Caramelizing not only results in better color but also flavor the dish.

    • February 6, 2008 12:02am

      Tròi Oi (OMG! in Vietnamese ) this bring back delicious memories!! This was a family favorite when I was growing up! Dad made many variations of this. His favorite addition for that extra zing was adding herbs to it- crushed lemongrass to the marinade or eating it with peppery rau ram herbs. Thanks for the tasty reminder!

    • February 6, 2008 1:26am

      I just hate tough superball ribs.
      The restaurant I work at serves (usually) tough ribs, and they charge a lot of money for them. I feel sorry for the customers when I take their order.

      These look good, though. I’m getting into Vietnamese food. I made some phở the other night.

    • February 6, 2008 12:14pm

      pork and caramel – how can you go wrong?

      i’d wanted to make these ribs for this week’s smackdown but i don’t think i have the time, so i’m going to do molly steven’s very similar instead (with the addition of lemongrass, as several people have suggested).

    • Murasaki Shikibu
      February 7, 2008 7:20pm

      Heather: If your boyfriend doesn’t hate anchovies you can use this as a substitute.

      Last year I had this craving for Lahb Moo (Thai food) that requires fish sauce and I couldn’t find any at Carrefour (in Spain). Anyway from experience I know that Thai food just doesn’t taste right without fish sauce so I had to think of something.

      Then I remembered reading about Garum – the fish sauce that the Romans used – which was made from anchovies pretty much…and anchovies are really easy to find in Spain. In reality you have to make Garum from the anchovies but I didn’t want to do that so I just liquified the fish.

      I melted some anchovies in olive oil (peanut oil would have been preferable but hey – they don’t have that here either!) and the Lahb Moo turned out ok. A bit different but delicious and it didn’t have that awful flat taste when you omitt the fish sauce.

      Because fish sauce is one of those ‘hidden flavors’ in the dish – don’t put so much that you know there’s anchovies in it! I’d say 1-2 filets would be enough. If your boyfriend’s finicky about fish smells in general – only put 1 filet.

      Of course it won’t be as good as using real fish sauce but it will be much closer to the original than without it. :)

    • ayami
      February 11, 2008 4:56am


      Please try this new Korean restaurant in the 15th. It’s got a refined twist that you’ve got to check out!!

      Gwon’s Dining
      51 rue Cambronne
      Phone: 01 47 34 53 17


    • February 12, 2008 3:13pm

      Thank you for this recipe! I changed out the fish sauce as you recommended and it worked out. I added a lot of ginger, chili paste and pepper and cooked them on the stove top. Amazing!!!!
      Thanks again!

    • February 16, 2008 7:46am

      If I stunk up the house with fish sauce, I’d get an eviction notice from my husband!

    • Thanh Tu Nguyen
      August 4, 2008 11:08am

      wow, how amazing i find this recipe here, i’m from this dish’s country
      nice entry, david, i love your site and your recipes here

    • Tracy
      November 10, 2008 1:34am

      Hi David-What was the oven temperature when you made them? I just made them tonight and would like to free up my stove top for other dishes? Thanks!

      Tracy: You can click on the link and get the exact recipe, which includes baking times and temperatures, I believe. Enjoy the ribs! -dl

    • Hang
      January 16, 2010 4:18am

      Way late to this party, but I just wanted to say when this is prepared properly, it is absolutely delicious!! My mom used to make these, but the with about 2-inch ribblets. From your picture, the caramel sauce doesn’t look like what my mother made (unfortunately she is no longer with us so I can not inquire for exact details). I do recall her slowly melting white sugar in a pan and adding the ribblets (didn’t recall any veggies), tossing them around to coat and cook them. Vietnamese meals are typically cooked very quickly and eaten while hot, so there should be no wait time to dig into your ribs. :o) When finished, the caramel sauce that coats the ribs is probably between the consistency of maple syrup and honey, with a slightly translucent sheen to it. Like caramel glass. From the close-up picture of the rib you held up, it looks a wee bit on the dark and dry side to me. Maybe it’s all the time it spent in the oven or fridge? Mom cooked everything on the stove and was done within the hour. We ate it with steamed jasmine rice. I remember licking the caramel sauce off my fingers (gotta hold those little rib bones with your fingers!). Yum!

    • February 11, 2010 1:28am

      How to improve upon an already awesome recipe such as this? I’ll share a little technique I learned while working at charlie trotters. Once the caramel hits that point where it’s a beautiful mahogany, (and just before you add the fish sauce) add a handful each of minced ginger, garlic, shallots, lemongrass and chiles. The caramel will bubble up and will release an intensely wonderfully aromatic steam (in contrast to that of the fish sc). Stir and allow to cook for a minute, then add a spoonful of tomato paste, a couple shots espresso, simmer another minute to cook out the tomato paste. Then add some orange juice and proceed with the recipe, by adding the fish sauce and so on, as directed.

      Finally, just before serving, stir in just a few drops of sherry vinegar, and throw some fried shallots and a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro and scallions over top. You will not be sorry!!!

      This recipe can be used to braise everything from ribs, to chicken or quail legs, to pork shoulder and beyond…

    • Kimthuy
      July 20, 2010 12:23pm

      Asian cooks often season their frying oil by cooking ingredients such as chillies, garlic, shallots, and peppercorns in it before they begin frying. It gives an added burst of flavor to the dish and teases the nostrils wondrously. They rarely use fresh vegetable oil for stir-frying, preferring “cooked oil” – oil that has been previously used for deep frying – the flavors that it adds.