Soda… We call it soft drink in the Philippines. Some people drink it with meals like it’s a substitute for water. Not a satisfactory substitute in my opinion but, for marinating or braising meat, I choose soda over water. Why?
- Flavor (I especially love lemon-lime sodas)
- Phosphoric acid (a component of soda that breaks down proteins and tenderizes meat)
Despite the name I gave this dish, and while lemon-lime soda contributes a lot to the final flavor of the sauce, you need more than a can or a bottle of soda to create a sauce rich in flavors and color. So, the cooking procedure is not as simple as putting the ribs in a pan, pouring soda over them and leaving the meat cook in the liquid. Oh, no!
First, marinate the ribs. Now, you have two options here.
- Use dry rub on the ribs and let them sit overnight in the fridge, and mix the sauce with the soda as a braising liquid.
- Alternatively, you may mix the sauce with the soda, marinate the ribs in it and use the marinade as a braising liquid.
Obviously, based on the photos above, I chose the first option. Why? Because I like browning meat before braising. Had I marinated the ribs with the soda, I’d have to strain the ribs and pat them dry to remove surface moisture which is the enemy of browning. Then, there’s the sugar from the that the meat soaks up while marinating. Sugar burns fast and that would have made browning a bit trickier.
So, it’s option number one for me. If you’re wondering if not marinating in soda means not utilizing its meat-tenderizing properties, well, braising is a form and low and slow cooking which means the meat will be sitting in soda for at least and hour and a half. And that’s long enough to get moist and tender pork ribs.
The seasoned ribs were spread in a lightly oiled wok and cooked over high heat with occasional tossing until the edges were starting to brown. Pounded garlic was added and the cooking and tossing went on for a few minutes more to make sure that the meat has lost all pinkness.
The sauce that contains the soda was poured in. For a more complex flavor, I added Sriracha (the sweetness of the soda balances the intense heat of Sriracha) and Japanese Worcestershire sauce (we use the Bulldog brand at home). Then, the braising began. Covered pan. Low heat.
The sauce was carefully measured so that by the time the liquid had reduced to about half a cup, the pork was perfectly tender. All I had to do was stir in starch dissolved in a little water and let everything cook until the sauce was thick and clear.
But a little tip here: The quality of pork varies. Cuts taken from an older animal will require a longer cooking time and, ergo, more liquid to cook in. When your sauce has reduced, test a piece of meat to see if it is tender enough to your liking. If not, pour in about half a cup of water, continue braising until that water has evaporated and the sauce is back to about half a cup. Taste a piece of meat again. Until the meat is tender, just repeat. Another half cup of water, reduce, test the meat. When you’re happy, add the starch solution.
All that the soda braised pork ribs at this point is garnish. Sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds are my default for Asian dishes, but you may want to try a combination of crispy shallots (sweet) and chili flakes (spicy).
Stovetop soda braised pork ribs
- 1 kilogram pork ribs cut through the bones into two-inch lengths
- 1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning (store bought)
- 500 ml soda (7-Up, Sprite or Mountain Dew)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger with the juice
To brown and braise
- cooking oil
- 6 cloves garlic pounded and peeled
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon starch corn, potato or cassava
- Rinse the pork ribs, drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Place the ribs in a bowl, toss in the lemon pepper seasoning, cover and leave in the fridge for at least three hours or up to overnight.
- Take the ribs out of the fridge and dump into a colander lined with paper towels. Take a second stack of paper towels, press on top of the ribs and weight down with a plate or bowl.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce.
- Coat the bottom and sides of a wok or pan with oil and heat.
- Spread the ribs on the hot oil, leave for the undersides to brown, stir and cook with occasional stirring until the edges are just starting to bown.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has lost all pinkness.
- Pour in the sauce, and drizzle in the Sriracha and Worcestershire sauce.
- When the braising liquid boils, lower the heat cover and simmer. Taste every 15 to 20 minutes and add salt or pepper, or both, if needed.
- The dish is done when the sauce has reduced to about half a cup and the meat is tender. If the sauce dries up before the meat is done, add half a cup of water, cook until reduced, and repeat until the meat is tender.
- Dissolve the starch in a tablespoon of water, drizzle over the ribs, stir and cook until the sauce is thick and clear.
- Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds before serving with rice.