Singapore Cooks

Family practice to mix curry and soya sauce

Dentist Darrell Ong came up with a recipe for baked pork ribs that includes dark soya sauce and curry powder because he is used to mixing the two

A flavourful pot of chicken curry is usually good on its own, but dentist Darrell Ong grew up eating the dish with a side of dark soya sauce. He slathers the sauce over white rice and eats it with curry.

The peculiar habit stemmed from his mother's craving for dark soya sauce when she was pregnant. She would add a dash of it to the rice which accompanied the chicken curry that his late grandmother used to cook.

This habit continued and his family still has dark soya sauce as an accompaniment to curry.

Dr Ong, 28, says the dark soya sauce gives a savoury kick to the "less lemak" curry that his mother cooks, as she uses milk instead of coconut milk.

He has used this family tradition to create a new dish of baked pork ribs. He marinates the pork ribs with dark soya sauce and coats them with curry powder.



    560g pork ribs, chopped into 8cm slices

    4 Tbs dark soya sauce

    1 Tbs sunflower oil

    2 tsp cumin powder

    1 tsp black pepper

    4 tsp curry powder

    1 tsp salt

    4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

    Mesclun and mint leaves, lemon for garnish


    1. In a mixing bowl, mix pork ribs with dark soya sauce and sunflower oil. Add cumin, black pepper, curry powder, salt and chopped garlic, making sure the ribs are evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

    2. Take the chilled bowl out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

    3. Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.

    4. Line a baking tray, big enough to lay out the ribs without stacking, with parchment paper and spread marinated pork ribs evenly across it. Bake for 20 minutes.

    5. Take the tray out and let the ribs cool for about five minutes.

    6. Place ribs on a serving plate, garnish with mesclun and mint leaves and a slice of lemon.

    Serves 4

"I prefer a heavier flavour in my food, so I have gone from lightly coating the ribs with curry powder to using it like a dry rub," he says.

He decided to bake pork ribs after he came across a recipe for sticky spare ribs by British TV cook Nigella Lawson. Her recipe called for the pork ribs to be marinated with ingredients such as honey and sweet chilli sauce.

The dish was a hit at his family gathering three years ago, but it was only last month that he thought of giving the pork ribs a curry spin while thinking of what to cook for a family dinner.

Over the past month, he has tweaked the recipe to add more salt to the marinade, on top of seasoning the ribs with soya sauce to inject more flavour. He has also tossed in chopped garlic to bake with the ribs.

"That was an accidental addition and the charred garlic gives a crunch to the pork ribs," he says.

His interest in food was piqued from a young age, when he used to pop into the kitchen while his mother was cooking and "became well known for stealing food".

When he was 14, his food horizons were broadened by watching cooking shows on cable TV, including The Naked Chef by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Kitchen Secrets by French chef Raymond Blanc. Inspired by Oliver, he started cooking marinara and vongole pasta for his family for dinner.

His father, 62, is a retired air steward and his mother, 58, is a church secretary. He has an older sister, 30, who works as an events manager.

Over the years, he has grown more confident of his cooking and now has a reputation among his friends as the de facto cook at gatherings. He usually whips up three-course meals and his signature dishes include ribeye steak cooked medium rare, mushroom risotto with sherry wine sauce, Cajun seafood boils with clams, mussels and squid, and cheesecake.

His most challenging dish has been Beef Wellington, seared fillet steak encased in puff pastry, which he attempted for a Christmas party five years ago.

He recalls: "It felt very shiok when the dish turned out right. The puff pastry was difficult to handle as it gets sticky easily due to the high humidity here."

He says he enjoys cooking as it is, like performing dental treatments, "fun and hands-on".

He says: "It is impressive to see Chinese chefs such as Martin Yan chopping vegetables at lightning speed while talking."

With such complex dishes in his repertoire, it is surprising that he is not a fan of following recipes.

Dr Ong, who is single, says: "It can get cumbersome and frustrating to refer to recipes back and forth while cooking. It should be fun and up to one's liking, so you just need to trust your tongue."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Family practice to mix curry and soya sauce'. Print Edition | Subscribe