I LOVE DIM SUM (點心, 点心, diǎnxīn, dímsām)! I love it so much in fact that over the years I’ve learned to make quite a few of my favorite dim sum dishes, and make them pretty regularly. (A few times a month if I’m being honest.) I love how the simplest of ingredients can turn into something so complex and mouthwatering that people will drive for hours, spending hundreds of dollars for a meal of it! Not only is dim sum delicious, it’s also a wonderful way to bring friends, family and even strangers together in a way that is sadly missing in today’s fast-paced world.
For those of you who are new to the wonderful world of dim sum, it is basically a huge range of small dishes from China that are typically enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and/or brunch. And when I say huge, I do mean HUGE! I’ve seen reports estimating there are well over 1000 different dim sum dishes just waiting to be prepared and enjoyed. Some date back to between 317 AD – 420 AD (depending on which reference materials you read). While dim sum today is mostly comprised of Cantonese dishes there are in fact many dim sum dishes from other Chinese cuisines. In the decades since it made its way to America, however, dim sum has grown beyond a daytime treat to be a delicious meal we love anytime! (Dim sum in the morning, dim sum in the evening, dim sum at super time! Who doesn’t love a McGuire Sisters joke!)
OK, now that my mouth is watering and stomach growling, let’s move on to the fun part! Let’s prepare and dig in to a steaming plate of Chinese Black Bean Ribs, my style!
- 2 lb beef short ribs, cut across the slab (pork ribs or rib tips also are wonderful in this)
- 1/2 cup Chinese fermented black beans, re-hydrated and smashed into broken beans.
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Japanese sake or a dry sherry also work.)
- 1 tbsp dry tangerine and/or mandarin orange peel, re-hydrated and diced finely. (If using fresh peel use 3/4 tablespoon.)
- 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder (white Pepper, cinnamon, star anis, cumin, black cardamom and Szechuan peppercorns are typically found in 5-spice powder, but sometimes more/less.)
- 1/4 - 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds (optional, but I like the floral notes it adds.)
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt (optional, based on the saltiness of your soy sauce and oyster sauce.)
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch, potato starch, rice or a.p. flour (optional, but gives the final gravy a lovely smooth texture.)
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil (add more or less if you wish)
Tools: Steamer rack with a lid, large pan that can hold rack above water level, large plate/bowl that fits inside your steamer rack with 1/2-inch space, and a plate grabber.
Notice: If you don’t have a steamer rack you can make one by using a large pot like a Dutch oven with a lid and tinfoil. Create 4 golf ball size tinfoil balls and flatten slightly on the bottom. Set them in the bottom of your pan, then add the plate of ribs to hold them down. Water should come up halfway up the balls, but not touch the bottom of the plate itself. Cover with a domed lid and steam as normal.
- Place dried fermented black beans into a small container, cover with warm/hot water (hot water from the sink is perfectly fine) and allow them to soak for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes drain soaking water and make sure they are soft enough to smash with your fingers. If still firm simply cover with more water and allow to soak a bit longer. Once beans have softened enough to crush easily, use a fork to smash your beans into a rough paste. (About 20 % paste and 80% broken-up beans in smallish bits.)
- Place dried tangerine peel into a dish, cover with warm/hot water. Allow to soak for 10-20 minutes, or until the peel bends easily. Using a clean kitchen towel (or paper towel) blot away any extra water on the peel, place it on cutting board (this reduces slipping, and cutting yourself with the knife). Cut the peel into a fine julienne (matchsticks) and stack in an orderly bundle. Cut across bundle into a fine brunoise. (tiny dice of about 1/16 inch cubes)
- Place ribs on cutting board and cut with knife to separate each rib. Place separated ribs in a large bowl. (If you plan to use longer ribs you will want to ask your butcher to trim them to between 1-3 inches. This will help reduce cooking time, make things a bit more manageable when serving and to fit in your steamer.)
- Add other ingredients into the same bowl as ribs, toss until everything is evenly mixed and coated.
- Setup your steamer on the stove, select a plate that will sit inside with about 1/2 inch of space between the edge and the steamer basket. (This will allow you to remove the hot plate without burning yourself.) Add water to your steamer to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. (You can add more water, but you ideally want the water level a 1/2 inch below the bottom of the dish holding the food.)
- Place enough ribs on plate to cover a single layer, place in steamer. Cover with lid and steam at medium/high for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, open steamer and check the tenderness of your ribs. If cooked and tender enough, turn off the steamer and allow to sit undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. (This will allow it to cool slightly and help reduce the risk of burns.) Also, be aware that this dish will contain a sauce/gravy as well. So be very careful not to spill if your dish has shallow sides. Please note: you will also need to check the water level in your steamer to make sure it doesn't run out. If your pot runs dry it could cause warping, burn your food, and may even cause the dish inside to break very easily with a quick change in temperature.
- Using a plate grabber (or sturdy kitchen mitts) carefully remove the very hot dish from steamer and set on a dry kitchen towel to remove residual water on the outside/bottom of the dish.
- Enjoy with a bowl of steamed rice!