If you’re Singaporean, you’d mostly like have eaten at a zi char stall before. And you can’t have missed out on a classic zi char dish like Coffee Pork Ribs. For non-Singaporeans, zi char dining is a concept rather unique to Singapore and Malaysia. A zi char stall or restaurant would be a frills-free and affordable dining place where Singaporeans can dig into a wide range of delicious nibblets from Golden Pumpkin Prawns (Zion Road anyone) to Salted Egg Yoke Calamari (Wah Chee at Dover) to our famous Chilli Crab (anytime, anywhere). A zi char stall is a place where you can find a myriad of the most interesting and innovative dishes, kudos to our creative and diligent chefs behind the woks.
As easily homesick and hungry Tummy Trolls, we try to recreate a taste of home although Coffee Pork Ribs isn’t exactly the easiest dish to start with. I had intended this entry to be Step-By-Step, but alas, my memory fails me because I really can’t recall the exact proportions of the seasoning and ingredients that went into the marinate, the key to making delicious Coffee Pork Ribs. The taste test of Coffee Pork Ribs also tends to be more subjective than objective – Some people love the bitter after-taste of the coffee, some people like it all sticky-sweet while others prefer theirs with a complex salty-sweet flavour. I like mine salty-sweet so you’d see unusual seasoning with the likes of Shao Xing wine and Greek honey. Nevertheless, enjoy our quick guide to making Coffee Pork Ribs!
The brief steps to making Coffee Pork Ribs:
These are 2 long prime ribs, (poorly) chopped into chunks, pre-roasted in the oven instead of being deep-fried. If I had a wok that could accommodate deep-frying, I would deep fry the ribs, but I don’t, so the oven should is the next best option. Deep-frying not only makes the ribs more crispy and delish, it also seals in the juices lest the meat turns too tough and chewy later in the cooking process.
Roasting the ribs should do the same as long as you are careful not to overcook them! Slapped with a layer of vegetable oil, salt, sugar and pepper, we pre-roasted the ribs at Gas Mark 5 for close to 30 minutes, wrapped in foil to retain the juicy goodness. Alternatively, you may choose to sear the ribs on a grill or a skillet although that might be prone to premature charring of the ribs.
Here is where everything becomes a bit messy – I know I added in quite a bit of coffee powder, lots of sugar, a little salt, a teaspoon of oyster sauce, some Shao Xing wine… But I sincerely forgot how much of each I put. The priorities of writing an accurate recipe just bypassed me when I was busy trying to create the “right taste” by pouring a bit of this and that by instinct. Please forgive me.
We used coffee granules, but instant coffee powder should work and might work even better. After all I don’t think our zi char stalls actually use coffee powder of too high a quality do they? The sweeter instant coffee mix might help to offset the bitter acidity of the coffee, perhaps also requiring less sugar in the marinate then.
If you want the ribs to be bursting with flavour, try soaking them in the marinate for 30minutes and more. I soaked them for close to an hour if I am not wrong. They were so soaked that the initially golden-brown ribs turned into a very dark shade of brown!
After browning some coarsely chopped garlic I proceeded to sear the ribs in the pan at medium-high heat. Char the ribs slightly for the extra crisp but be sure not leave them all black from soot.
Then pour in a desired amount of marinate. It should sizzle like mad because the marinate contains a lot of water – Be careful! It was splattering crazily when we did this, albeit in a good way. I took this opportunity to lick the splattered gravy spot off my hands heh heh heh.
I hope you didn’t believe me. ;)
Last but not least, stir in some dissolved corn starch into the ribs to create the sticky, gooey texture of the sauce! Turn off the heat before you put the corn starch in – If not the corn starch might just turn into lumpy blocks without integrating into the marinate.
Would be lovely with a garnish of white sesame seeds or almond flakes.
The cooking’s all very fast and furious and as a good and reputable zi char chef would tell you, the control of the heat/fire is paramount when cooking a dish like Coffee Pork Ribs. We can’t say much about this because we had neither a gas stove nor a proper wok. But it’s right… I’d had too many bad experiences with over-fried ribs (resulting in dry and tough meat) or intensely bitter sauces that entirely mask the natural flavours of the pork and I’m rather relieved that we have done a relatively better job here. We would, however, love to hear from you on your ideal Coffee Pork Ribs. Bitter, sweet, salty-sweet? Crispy and crunchy, or soft and tender? Just participate in the poll at the bottom of the page! Once again, thank you all for the support towards Tummy Troll :)
Posted by #phangchewfat