BITTER gourd with pork ribs is one of those homely Cantonese dishes that is usually cooked for the family.
Its robust seasoning, attributed mainly to black bean sauce and bean paste, results in a hearty dish that has become a comfort food for many Chinese families.
The long cooking melds the meat and bitter gourd flavours into a rich dark gravy that encourages you to eat more rice.
Although pork ribs or pork belly is the usual meat for this dish in Hong Kong, it is more common for this dish to feature chicken or fish, specifically ikan terubok in Malaysia.
I have also tasted a tofu version of this dish at a restaurant in Petaling Jaya and I must say it was amazing.
I like to use pork ribs, especially the cuts that include the soft bones. When cooked down well, the collagen creates a gelatinous gravy that is full of flavour and body.
Bitter gourd has long been known in Asia and Africa as a detox agent.
It may even be the very fruit encountered by the Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings in the Old Testament. At least that’s what my brother-in-law, who hates bitter gourd, insisted that it was the same fruit that was decried as “death in the pot”.
The solution according to that passage was to add flour to counter the “poison,” much like how we add some sort of starch to our bitter gourd now.
The bitter gourd is usually cut into chunks or slices, then briefly blanched to get rid of excess bitterness. But you may omit this step if you like the bitterness.
A bit of sugar is also usually added to the dish to cut the bitterness, and you will have to adjust the seasoning at the end just before serving.
Bitter gourd pork ribs
Ingredients¼ cup cooking oil
2kg pork short ribs
1 knob fresh ginger, sliced
10 bulbs shallots, skinned
1 bulb garlic, crushed
3 pods red chillies, sliced
1 tbsp white peppercorns
1 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp fermented bean paste
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt to taste
1 litre water
1 litre boiling water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 bitter gourd, seeded and sliced
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp chicken stock concentrate
1 tbsp oyster sauce
Heat oil in a wok or frying pan. Brown pieces of short ribs in batches until well seared on all sides. Remove ribs from pan and drain out excess oil, leaving only about two tablespoons in the pan.
Into the hot oil, add sliced ginger, shallots, garlic and red chillies to saute until fragrant. Then add peppercorns, black bean sauce and bean paste to saute until dry. Deglaze pan with Shaoxing wine, then return the browned ribs to the pan. Add soy sauce, salt and sugar to taste, then cover with cold water and simmer for two hours until ribs are tender.
In a separate pot, bring a litre of water to a boil with salt, sugar and cooking oil. Add bitter gourd to blanch for two minutes. Remove bitter gourd from water and add into the stewing ribs to simmer for another five to 10 minutes to allow all the flavours to meld together.
Finally, thicken the sauce with the gravy seasoning and adjust salt and sugar levels to your liking.