A classic dim sum savoury dish that can be prepared easily in your home, enjoy a steamy hot dish of pork ribs flavoured with salted or fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, chilli, Chinese wine, oyster and light soy sauces.
Having dim sum during the 70’s when I was growing up, was not as casual a dining affair as it is today. As children, whenever my siblings and I excitedly jam-packed ourselves like sardines into the back seat of our less-than-luxurious Toyota Datsun at father’s announcement that we were going for dim sum, we knew we were in for a real treat!
“Must be something really auspicious! Maybe Papa got promotion!” my older brothers would be constantly guessing throughout our short, but chatter-filled, car ride to father’s favourite Chinese restaurant. Actually, it was more like everyone else’s favourite dim sum restaurant in a small town like ours, where we had more names in our family, than all the Chinese restaurants in our neighbourhood combined.
It might have been one of the few dim sum places in town, but the chefs there sure did serve the best dim sum treats I ever had as a child. And to this day, I can still vividly recall every square inch of space within that sunshine-filled restaurant with its classic Oriental red doors, and its roomy hall filled with dragon and phoenix motifs beautifully crafted and carved into its wood decor. And what’s a dim sum restaurant without the dim sum aunties, right? I was always amused by the bright-eyed, beaming (and very loud!) aunties with starch-pressed kerchiefs knotted neatly around their napes, skilfully weaving their dim sum carts around the patrons’ tables, with their (very) high-pitched voices piercing through and rising distinctly above the crescendo of conversations and chatter. But most of all, we were there for the food! Those dim sum dishes were truly, wonderfully delicious …my oh my, how I loved all of it!
And perhaps, as a growing child, I was all for the meaty stuff, so it’s no surprise that steamed pork ribs with salted black beans won me over from the time I could learn to spell. These days, there’s really no need to go to a Chinese restaurant (and pay inflated prices!) to enjoy this simple, but so delicious, dim sum dish. So here, I’m sharing my go-to recipe that’s never failed me whenever I create this delicious dish at home for my family.
For me, I just love how the ribs’ sauce is salty, savoury, spicy and pungent with the aroma of the fermented black beans, all at once in every bite. I particularly enjoy the tender texture and robust flavour of the pork ribs, which is left to stand in marinade and seasonings for at least half an hour before steaming, so as to absorb the seasonings and impart fuller, richer flavours. I hope you’ll try it! I guarantee you there won’t be any gravy left (can’t guarantee that your kids will not end up looking like pets licking the sauces off the bones and the dish!).
Steamed Pork Ribs with Salted Black Beans
- 300 g pork riblets (see Recipe Notes)
- ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tbsp water
For the Marinade:
- 1 ½ tbsp salted or fermented black beans washed, drained, chopped finely
- 1 thumb-sized ginger knob peeled, washed, chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, washed, chopped finely
- 1 thumb-sized dried tangerine peel
- 4 bird's eye chilli washed, chopped finely
For the Seasonings:
- ½ tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tbsp Shaoxing wine or sherry
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 ¼ tsp sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp corn flour or potato starch
- Some finely chopped spring onion for garnishing
- Wash pork ribs thoroughly clean of crushed bits of bone, blood clots and trim off visible fat. Rub all over with bicarbonate of soda and water, and let stand for 1 hour to tenderise the meat. Wash thoroughly to remove the bicarbonate of soda. Pat dry, place in a clean bowl and set aside.
- Soak dried tangerine peel in tepid water till soft. Scrape off the pith with the blade of a small knife, wash clean, and chop finely.
- Place marinade ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir till well combined. Add seasonings and stir till well combined. Add pork ribs and massage the marinade into the ribs, by hand, until water is all absorbed. Arrange the ribs on a heatproof plate. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
- Fill a wok at least one-third full with water. Place a steaming rack or tray in the wok, above the water level. Cover with wok lid and bring to a boil over high heat. When water is boiling, place the heatproof plate of pork ribs on the steaming rack, and cover quickly with wok lid. Steam for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pork ribs are cooked through. Remove, garnish with chopped spring onions, and serve immediately.
- Not all types of pork ribs are suitable for steaming. Wherever possible, try to choose or get pork riblets. These are bones close to the tenderloin, and are shorter, where the attached meat is more tender and slightly fatty. These meaty riblets cook quickly and are suitable for roasting in whole, or chopped into smaller pieces for steaming, stewing and braising.
- Whenever or wherever in doubt (I am pretty clueless when it comes to the anatomy of pork flesh and bones!), ask your local butcher to help you choose the right ribs. I always tell the Uncle or Aunty at my local market exactly what I'm going to be needing the meat for, be it steaming, braising or deep-frying, and dear Uncle always, always knows exactly what cuts to give me (and you might be pleasantly surprised too, as Uncle or Aunty can offer really helpful preparation or cooking tips as well! Just ask!)