Friday, January 13, 2012

50 Women Game Changers in Food - #30 Barbara Tropp - Garlic-Stewed Sparerib Nuggets

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Barbara Tropp was raised in the New Jersey suburb of Springfield. She was an excellent student and while in high school she took a course in Asian culture that stimulated her curiosity about the East. She became fascinated with China and studied the language while in college. Following graduation, she went on to earn a master's degree in Chinese literature and art, and then entered a doctoral program at Princeton University. The program was more academic than she wanted at the time, so she transferred to the University of Taipei where, among other things, she learned colloquial Mandarin. She immersed herself in the life of the Taiwanese and became fascinated with Chinese cooking. The host families with whom she stayed were excellent cooks and gourmands and they taught her how to eat true Chinese-style. They also taught her how to shop and cook in harmony with the seasons. When she returned to Princeton, she began working on a doctorate, but had difficulty completing her thesis, and, as her fellowship began to run out, she supplemented her income by giving cooking classes and catering Chinese meals. She abandoned the doctoral program and moved to San Francisco where a large Chinatown gave her the opportunity to speak Mandarin on a daily basis. Shortly after the move, she landed a book contract for what would become The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. Following the success of her book, she went on to open the restaurant China Moon and by the early 1990's she was a recognized teacher and a prominent restauranteur. Recipes used at the restaurant were compiled and worked into her second book, The China Moon Cookbook. Sadly, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 45 and her fight with that demon forced her to set aside her work in the food world. During periods of remission she traveled, taught and wrote for Gourmet magazine, but she was never well enough to resume the activities that were commonplace prior to her diagnosis. She died when she was 53 years old. She is remembered for the freshness, seasonality and authenticity of her cooking. She has earned the position she holds on the Gourmet Live list of Women Game Changers in Food.

I have chosen a very simple but, nonetheless, delicious dish to represent her skill with a wok. The combination of fermented black beans, garlic and red pepper flakes is well-known to lovers of Chinese cooking. The sauce is quite easy to make and if you have a butcher who will cut the ribs for you, a beginning cook could successfully prepare this dish. There is, however, a problem with the recipe that can't be overlooked. In China, these ribs are cooked until they can be sucked off the bone. The time given in this recipe is way to short for that to happen. I don't want to alter the original recipe, so use good sense when you make these. It took over two hours for my ribs to reach the point where they barely clung to the bone and could be eaten in the Chinese manner. Others have made the same comment. This dish is a natural for the crock-pot and the next time I make these, I'll try cooking them that way. I know you'll love these, and with Chinese New Year just weeks away, you might want to consider them for your menus. Here's Barbara's recipe.

Garlic-Stewed Sparerib Nuggets...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Barbara Tropp

2 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh, meaty pork spareribs, cut crosswise with the butcher's band saw into one-inch-wide strips of riblets
3-1/2 tablespoons Chinese black beans, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 large garlic cloves, lightly smashed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons corn, peanut or canola oil
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
Green and white scallion rings, for garnish

1) Trim ribs of fat. Cut strips of ribs between bones into individual nuggets.
2) Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve sugar.
3) Heat a wok or a heavy pot large enough to hold ribs over high heat. When it's hot, add oil and swirl to coat bottom. Add ribs and toss until gray, about 4 minutes; adjusting heat if needed to prevent scorching. Add chili flakes and toss until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sauce, toss well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cover wok and cook spareribs until meat is tender enough to leave bone, about 45 minutes. Stir ribs several times while cooking.
4) To serve immediately, strain sauce into a fat separator and discard fat. Otherwise, strain sauce into a bowl and refrigerate separately from ribs; fat will congeal on top and should be discarded. To reheat, bring sauce and ribs slowly to a simmer over moderate heat. (High heat will toughen them.) Serve in heated bowls of contrasting color, garnished with a sprinkling of scallion rings. Set small, empty bowls alongside each diner to hold discarded bones. Encourage your guests to eat ribs Chinese-style, sucking on the bones with gusto! Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

The following bloggers are also featuring the recipes of Barbara Tropp today. I hope you'll pay them all a visit. They are great cooks who have wonderful blogs.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast, Joanne - Eats Well With Others, Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed Susan - The Spice Garden, Heather - girlichef, Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living, Mary - One Perfect Bite, Kathleen - Bake Away with Me
Sue - The View from Great Island, Barbara - Movable Feasts , Linda A - There and Back Again Nancy - Picadillo, Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits, Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Annie - Most Lovely Things, Claudia - Journey of an Italian Cook

Next week we will highlight the career and recipes of Donna Hay. It will be really interesting to see what everyone comes up with. If you'd like to join us please email me for additional information no later than Monday, January 16th.


David said...

Mary, Thanks for passing on this recipe for garlic stewed sparerib nuggets. We love Asian flavors and cuisine and pork is a real favorite! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


This is a wonderful post Mary. Thank you for sharing - not only the recipe but the great persona behind it. Indeed, "there is a story behind every great recipe." I wish you well. God bless....Perry

Cloudia said...

Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral

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Angie's Recipes said...

These would be wonderful with some rice for my lunch!!

Diane said...

I love my wok so this sounds just my kind of dish. Great post with lots of interesting info. Take care Diane

Kathy said...

Mary, Such wonderful information on Barbara Trop. I so enjoyed reading about her. Your sparerib nuggets are delicious looking. A winner for sure!

Sprigs of Rosemary said...

A fascinating woman she must have been. Although I love all kinds of Asian food, the stuff I make is pretty simple and I'm sure I take "un-authentic" short cuts. This sounds, with just a little extra effort, quite do-able. I'll try the crockpot way and then "eat with gusto!"

Heather @ said...

This sauce is SO fantastic! I love your choice...and your write-up on Barbara is wonderful :D

Kim said...

You know how much i love asian food. This recipe looks really good!

Tanna said...

I love the idea of sucking on the bones with gusto!! You know that has to be a good recipe! ;)

Very sad that her life was cut so short. Ovarian cancer is a brutal disease.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Mary! blessings ~ Tanna

Linda said...

Yumm...sounds fabulous and thanks for introducing her to us!! I tagged you in the 10 Question Quiz - see my recent post!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

It was fascinating to learn more about Barbara Tropp and to delve into another cuisine. These ribs sound like comfort food we are craving right now.

pam said...

I have some fermented black beans leftover from another recipe. Perfect!

Jeanette said...

This is one of my husband's favorite way of enjoying spareribs. I'm surprised it takes so long to cook - perhaps the ribs she used in her recipe were from a Chinese market where they are cut differently? Lovely write-up on Barbara Tropp - thank you for hosting this weekly event as always.

The Blonde Duck said...

She sounds amazing!

Barbara said...

Wonderful choice, Mary. With the cold front that just hit, wouldn't this be a delight to serve for dinner? Comfort and class in one dish. Easy, too.

love cooking said...

Woo…I can eat 2 bowls of rice with this dish. The sauce must be very nice. I like the meat or ribs to be very tender. Your suggestion of cooking it in slow cooker is really a good idea. :)

Claudia said...

I adore Chinese spare-ribs so this goes right to my spare-rib-heart. Love that they are nuggets. She was indeed a fascinating subject - so interesting how people "come to food."

Unknown said...

Hi Mary! I have been following your 50 women game changers via your blog and two others. I think it's a wonderful concept. I may try and join you next week. I will take a look at Donna Hay's recipes and see if I can find something appealing. I always have to think of what my family will eat when I make a recipe. I am sure that I will be able to find something from her collection.

I dedicated my week (which I will post next week) to local recipes. I made 4 recipes from local chefs and restaurants. I am lucky as I live in the SF bay area so I have tons of amazing chefs and restaurants to choose from. That might actually be a great Friday concept to try. What do you think? How would I get something like that started?

Mireya @MyHealthyEatingHabits said...


Barbara led a fascinating life and your coverage of her was very interesting. Thank you for pointing out that important flaw in the recipe.

Lemon said...

This looks like a very tasty dish, lovely.

Unknown said...

You had me at pork my friend. Usually it is bacon, but not here. I will have to try this recpe soon. I cant wait.

Catherine said...

Dear Mary, A wonderful tribute to a person who died much to young. You did a very nice tribute to her and a simple dish brings out the brilliance of her cooking. Blessings my friend, Catherine xo

Norma Chang said...

Fermented black beans, garlic and spareribs a great combo. Love Barbara Tropp's cookbooks.

Joanne said...

I'll be turning this recipe over to my parents asap. They love their spareribs and, more than that, they love their garlic!

Susan Lindquist said...

I cheat on this dish and use boneless spare ribs ... I cut them to half length and proceed as the recipe says ... I know. Not authentic, but infinitely easier to deal with ... I love the sauce!
You picked a winner to share, Mary!

Alyce said...

Lovely...thanks for posting this.. By the way, I'd like to get in on the 50 women game changers..don't see your email. I blog at ( a general, family type blog) and also at A blog for people who cook for one. Thanks..and Barbara Tropp is one of my favorites. Sing a new song, alyce

annie@mostlovelythings said...

So happy to have learned about Barbara Tropp. Your Garlic-stewed spareribs nuggets looks and sound delicious. I will absolutely try these this coming week.

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