Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Soothing Respite – Pickled Cucumber with Pork Ribs

This dish, whose origins I was never able to discover, is one I’ve eaten for as long as I could remember. It appears unique to my household, because I’ve never seen it anywhere else: be it home, roadside, or restaurant.

As Chinese savory dishes go, this one is uncommonly refreshing, especially in our hot and humid weather. When the unbearable heat makes you lose heart for a “heavy” dish, try this for a light appetizing alternative. There are two parts to it: pickled cucumber, and pork ribs in sweet bean sauce.

The ingredients are simple, as the dish relies on contrasts and complementarities of taste and texture, laid down in age-old traditions, for effect and seduction. There’s the counter-balancing of sourness with sweetness; in this case, pickled cucumber against sweet bean paste.  There’s crunchy cucumber versus tender pork rib; and, there’s the crisp bright green of cucumber against the dour dark brown of the stewed pork for a satisfying visual flourish.

I’m tempted to think it was either a bored or inspired mind that created this dish… Enjoy!

Pickled Cucumber with Pork Ribs

Oil                               1 tbsp
Sugar                           ½ tsp
Pork ribs                      400 g
Water/Stock                 1½ cups
Salt                              to taste
Dark soy sauce             ⅖ tsp
Caltrop flour                  ¼ tsp, mix with 1 tbsp  of water  (optional)

Pickled Cucumber
Cucumber                    350 g, sliced thinly
Vinegar                        1 tbsp
Sugar                           1 tbsp

Sweet Bean Paste (pounded finely)
Bean paste (豆酱)        35 g, minced
Garlic                          25 g, minced
Chilli                           20 g, minced
Oil                              1 tbsp
Sugar                          ⅓ tbsp

1.    Marinate cucumber with vinegar and sugar for 30 minutes.
2.    Mix sweet bean paste, garlic and chilli into a paste.  Heat wok with oil to medium heat. Add bean paste and sugar and fry for 10 minutes. If the bean paste begins to burn, add ½ tsp of water to prevent it from burning. Continue to simmer until the paste is fragrant.
3.    Increase heat to the maximum, add pork ribs and fry until the meat is brown.
4.    Add water/stock and simmer until the pork ribs are tender.
5.    Add pickled cucumber and marinated vinegar and cook for another 1 minute.
6.    Season with sugar, salt and dark soy sauce.
7.   Thicken the gravy with caltrop flour (optional).

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