Cooking Pork Rib Curry in the cold of Toronto

Friday, January 03, 2014

*I am on Sabbatical leave in Toronto till June 2014. I should still be able to blog some recipes from time to time.

I am here till June for my Sabbatical leave, joining the classes and interactions at the Winter Semester in Wycliffe College. Classes have not started yet and it was a week of catching up with some old friends.

I thought I knew what cold is till I arrived in Toronto, right in the heart of their winter. I am not complaining and I reckon I should positively adapt and even learn to enjoy it as I am not here for a week of touristy visit.

Apart from making sure I have everything I need to keep myself warm, food and cooking was something I needed to get down to as I don't fancy trudging through the snow for every meal.

It is still early days, but even in winter, I can see that Toronto has some of the best supermarkets or markets that I have visited abroad so far: very wide range, fresh and surprisingly, cheap. Toronto is one of the most multi-ethnic cities in the world and the food they stock on the market shelves also reflect that. You can get just about anything, conveniently in one location.

It is a cooks' paradise.

I will say more about Toronto in future posts but lets move on to a recipe.

My friend was craving for curry and asked me to cook one for his family dinner. It also happened that it was a very cold day, - 15°C and it quickly went down to > - 30°C when the wind blew. Imagine what that kind of cold can do to your skin. Just stick your head into your freezer for 10 minutes and take a selfie (please don't). Now, it is even colder than that.

So, I was more than happy to go curry. Chicken? That will be the usual. But it has not taken me long to notice how beautiful and cheap the pork here is. In Singapore, I hardly cook pork rib curry. The good cuts can range from SGD 17 to 20 per kilo.  As we say colloquially, it will be "sayang" (wasted) to use good pork ribs for curry.

But here, it is about $8 per kilo for the best cuts. It was a no-brainer. Pork rib curry it will be.

Curry is one of the dishes which you can easily adapt once you understand the parts. Of course a great dish is always more than the sum of its parts and this is what a good curry is.

You need these parts:

  • Spices (i.e cumin, coriander powder)
  • Chillies
  • Body i.e. onions, garlic, lemon grass
  • Meat
Carbo i.e potatoes (yellow flesh please)
Milk i.e. coconut

I will say that only the first three is necessary as carbo is optional if you are eating it with rice and bread. And of course, you need oil and salt. There are many variations of course to the parts, and for Indian and Thai types, you will use different ingredients.

As for the spices, ready powder mixes will be fine as long as they are fresh (flavours still there). Due to the weather here (not humid), I won't bother about making spices from scratch.

And for a few more tips, oil is important for both the cooking and eating. You need oil to caramelise/seat the "body ingredients" and release the flavours of the spices (Malays call it the "rempah"). As for eating, the unctuous mouthfeel is essential to good curries. That said, you can always skim off most of the oil after the curry is done and that which remains should suffice.

Salt is also essential and you need enough of it. Salt is a flavour-enhancer, carrying not just its own flavour but melding the rest together. If you do not have enough salt, your curry will taste flat even if you have the right ingredients.

One more thing: keep your curry at a low simmer (temp) and don't overcook the meat (time). You should be tasting your curry and testing the meat for doneness all the time. You can hardly make any serious mistakes. And if you do, just live another day to make another curry. A dish is only a failure if it stops you from attempting it again.  

Once you understand the basics, you don't need to be bound to recipes and learn to create curries of your own. I don't like my curries to be too watery as long as the sauce is enough to go with bread.

Here we go. I will use the exact recipe I did for my friend and as he wants to cook it again and he can refer to this recipe.

Dry Pork Rib Curry Recipe

2 kg pork ribs
500 gm red onions
200 gm garlic
3 stalks of lemon grass
3T curry powder
2T tumeric powder
3T dried chilli powder
250 ml or a bowl of cooking oil
1T sea/table salt (or to taste)
1T Sugar
1 can of coconut milk (about 250 ml)
1 kilo of potatoes (yellow flesh)
1 glass of water (250 ml)
A bunch of curry leaves

  1. Cut the pork ribs into equal bite-size pieces. Ask the butcher to do it for you if bone-cutting is involved. 
  2. Blend the peeled onions, garlic and lemon grass (bottom white part only) into a paste.   
  3. Heat up the oil in the wok or pot. Low fire or heat.
  4. Add the paste. Stir. Then add the curry leaves, turmeric and chilli powder . Add the curry leaves.
  5. Simmer for about 15 minutes. 
  6. Add the pork ribs and stir. After 5 minutes, add the coconut milk & water. Simmer. It will take an hour to cook the ribs but as there are variations on your side, adjust accordingly. The meat should not be hard but it should not fall off the bone either, a sign that it is overcooked.
  7. At the mid-point (after 30 mins) add the peeled potatoes. 
  8. Skim off the oil before seeing. The oil is flavourful and can be kept for another use. 
My friends enjoyed it immensely. It was also a rare treat for me. Especially in the cold. We ate it with rice and Vietnamese French loaves. The bread was crusted on the outside and soft inside, perfect for curry.

My friend's kitchen facilities were rudimentary. The blender had seen it's day and could hardly blend the lemon grass. The stove was an electric one and I used a simple deep pan.

But who cares, as long as the outcome is delicious. Wherever you may be, as long as you have the ingredients, you can make a good satisfying curry.

And if you are living in the northern atmosphere, don't stay miserable.

Curry on cooking.


Some pictorials to guide you:

I simmered the "rempah" and added the pork ribs
Coconut milk and water added
Potatoes added at mid-point
The curry is done. Skim and remove some of the oil. 

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  1. Tested and proven. One of the simplest and yet satisfying ever dish to make. Thank you sharing and passing on the good things in life.

  2. Thanks for the pork rib curry recipe. Is it the same amount if I were to substitute coconut milk with yoghurt?