Auntie Ruby's Steamed Pork Ribs in Plum Sauce

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This is the second installment of a mini-series on Pork Ribs. View the first episode here.

Pork ribs with soft bones are best for this dish - the meat is tender and suited for steaming.

The easiest way to get it is to ask your butcher.

Oh wait. Butcher?! Who is that?

I was surprised recently when a friend in his late thirties told me that his generation hardly visits the wet market. I suppose most avoid wet markets because they assume it is dirty and "no air con lah."

Wet markets today: Clean and smoking not allowed
I find that strange as the wet markets here are mostly very clean. Those we have here are a far cry from the ones I went to accompanying my Mum as a young boy. Her favourite was the Sungei way market in PJ, which used to be a village area on the outskirts of PJ. The dirtier the market was, the cheaper the produce would be.

I can recall the potholes of smelly fishy water which everyone had to navigate around. And when there was a mis-step, my slippered feet could feel the slimy cold water oozing in.

Squid, ikan kurau and kembong flavoured feet. Boleh pengsan

Now, that is history. It really is. Faint not.

The wet markets today are hardly wet. I find it a very pleasant experience walking the market aisles early in the morning. The birds are chirping away merrily and the air is fresh. The butcher chopping the meat in rhythmic fashion, the fish monger sharpening his knives in swishing motion, the sound of rustling newspapers as veg sellers crumple them for wrapping services, the egg seller juggling his can almost sense that everyone is about to break into a song, singing in harmony like the way they did in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. Bonjour! Bonjour!...

And you wonder why they are trying to Sheng Shiong away all our local wet markets.

Ok, I am getting carried away. If they do sing, they are more likely to break out in a Hokkien song or Cantonese opera. And oh well, a few do look unfriendly and depressed, like Liverpool or Arsenal fans in recent times. Don't you cross them. Don't show off your Man U shirt. The sharp looking meat cleavers are in their hands, not yours.

Fresh and cheap
The fact is, most of the time, the produce here is cheaper and fresher than those found in the supermarts. And more importantly, knowledgeable and experienced veg sellers or butchers can tell you what is good for the day, deal with your questions and share all kinds of helpful tips for cooking. And when you are a regular customer, they will throw in some bunches of spring onions and coriander leaves for free. 

From your pork butcher, you ask for the softest part of the ribs which is suited for steaming. This part will probably command a high price ($17-20 per kilo, depending on which market you are at). Get him/her to cut them into small pieces (as in photo).

And with this in hand you head home and prepare to make this fast and easy dish (not quite CF&G due to the cost).

Steamed Pork Ribs in Plum Sauce


1 kilo of Pork Ribs (soft boned)

3 tsp of Plum Sauce
1 tsp of black soy bean (optional)
3 tsp of minced garlic
dashes of Chinese Wine
3 tsp of Soy Sauce
1 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of corn flour
2 tsp of oil

Diced red chili

  1. Marinate the meat for half an hour.
  2. Put the dish on the steamer. Make sure the ribs are spread out in one layer for even and effective  steaming.
  3. Steam for 20 minutes. 
  4. Serve immediately and garnish with coriander leaves.
Done. Fast and easy. Adding black beans ("Tau See") is a variation to this dish, as can be seen in the photo. If you find that there is too much water residue in your dish, just pour out the sauce, cook it further and thicken it with corn starch. Then add the residual sauce back into the ribs and serve.

Depending on the meat you use, sometimes adding some bicarbonate when marinating will help to tenderise the meat. As you can imagine, this dish is easy and convenient to make. Marinate the ribs and then just put the same dish on the steamer. Time it to finish cooking just before dinner starts. You can switch off the flame and leave it in the steamer to keep the dish warm if dinner has not started yet.

I normally use my wok, plate holder, some water of course and the wok cover to get the job done. I have been told that using a bamboo steamer absorbs water better, leaving less water in the dish. I may try using that next.   

Steamed in the steel plate.

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  1. My parent's house which I grew up in is near Sg Way market but we hardly go there as my mom thinks it is "expensive" so she drives a further 20mins away to the OUG market (somewhere there abouts) with even cheaper price. I used to follow her around too but as a young child, what was worse than the smelly market was waking up pre-dawn to go there. Haha.

  2. Interesting to know that there are wet markets cheaper and smellier than Sungei Way's :)

  3. can I steam the meat in the rice cooker? you know when you cook rice and the top part can steam things. can I use this method?