Comfort Cooking

MSG-free steamed pork ribs

Wondering what to cook today? STFood Online Editor Hedy Khoo whips up easy eats to try at home


Replicate this dim sum dish of steamed pork ribs in black bean sauce. Making it at home means you can have a version that is free of MSG (monosodium glutamate).

Preserved black beans are so tasty, you do not even need oyster sauce to marinate the meat.

I suggest using soft bone ribs. Those who love this cut will feel joy biting into the crunchy soft bones.

The next best cut for this cooking method is the spare rib, which is more easily available. Get the portion which the Americans refer to as the St Louis-style cut. It is the flatter portion of a rack of spare ribs with the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips removed.

In Mandarin, it is called "nan pai", which literally translates to "southern ribs". For spare ribs, get them cut into bite-size pieces of 4cm by 4cm. As you will not be eating the bones, you can reduce the cooking time to an hour. That is enough to get the meat tender.

For home dining, I usually use a large stainless steel bowl to marinate, steam and serve the ribs. Using one bowl from start to finish saves time and energy on washing up.

For prettier plating, cook the meat first, then scoop out smaller portions into ceramic or stainless steel dishes which can fit into bamboo steamer baskets. Heat them up just before you are ready to eat. This helps to create that dim sum vibe for your home dining pleasure.

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• 500g soft bone ribs, cut into bite-size pieces of 4cm by 4cm

• 1 Tbs Chinese rice wine

• 2 drops Chinese rose wine

• 2 Tbs light soya sauce

• 3 garlic cloves, chopped

• 5g ginger, chopped

• ½ tsp sugar

• ½ tsp salt

• 36g preserved black beans

• 1 red finger chilli, chopped

• 1 tsp sesame oil

• 2 Tbs cornflour


1. Place the soft bone ribs in a heat-proof bowl.

2. Use a fine skewer to pierce the ribs.

3. Add the Chinese rice wine, Chinese rose wine, light soya sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, salt, preserved black beans, chilli, sesame oil and cornflour.

4. Mix the marinade thoroughly and massage into the meat.

5. Clingwrap the bowl and let the meat marinate in the fridge for at least two hours or preferably eight hours.

6. Remove the meat from the fridge 45 minutes before cooking.

7. Bring water to a boil in a covered pot or wok.

8. Steam for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Top up the steaming liquid as needed. Turn off the fire and let the meat cook in residual heat for another 15 minutes.

9. Bring the water to a boil before serving.

10. Serve hot.

Serves four to five

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2021, with the headline 'MSG-free steamed pork ribs'. Subscribe