After years of trial and error, Panda Express introduced its new Chinese Spare Ribs last week. Slow-cooked, bone-in ribs are rare within the limited-service sector, and Panda Express's rendition will be available through July 28.
“As a family-owned company, we believe in connecting people through food and a shared meal. We were inspired by how barbecue brings people together,” says executive chef Andy Kao in an e-mail. Kao used classic Chinese barbecue seasoning—sesame oil, mirin, red chili bean paste, garlic red peppers, sweet fennel, cinnamon, clove, anise, and soy sauce—but the dish preparation is more of an American tradition.
“The cooking method was especially difficult to perfect because we realized that to get the ribs to be fall-off-the-bone tender, they needed to be slow-cooked, just like the American-style of barbecue,” Kao says.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Industry Forecast, Southeast Asian cuisine was the No. 17 trend for limited-service operators. Emerging cuisines from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and others could potentially take a sales chunk away from more familiar Asian fare. One of QSR Magazine’s own 2015 predictions called for more flavors from the Far East. With emerging competition from other regional cuisines, Panda Express could hold consumer interest through creative fusion dishes like the Chinese Spare Ribs.
In addition to its cross-cultural roots, the newest dish also illustrates the difficult process operators must undertake to create a menu item that is both high quality and economically priced.
Kao says that after perfecting the sauce and developing custom ovens to properly cook the ribs, Panda Express had to wait for the commodity prices to reach a reasonable level for premium-quality ribs.
Although the Chinese Spare Ribs have been on the menu for less than a week, Kao says that new and existing Panda Express customers gave the dish high scores in market tests.
“Barbecue is more than just a meal; it has a sense of fun about it,” Kao says. “Who doesn’t enjoy eating with their hands from time to time? Our Chinese Spare Ribs also came about because we’ve received a lot of requests from our guests to have a pork entrée on the menu.”
By Nicole Duncan