Coffee Ribs, Done American BBQ-Style

Coffee ribs is one of those must-order zi char dishes. Though the pork ribs in this dish are typically served in bite-sized chunks, I wanted to try serving it as an entire slab of ribs because the way the glaze hugs the ribs in this dish reminds me of American BBQ ribs! And it really worked – was heart-stoppingly beautiful and tasty to boot. I know there would definitely be some of you who would ask if you can bake the ribs instead of deep-frying. Answer is you can – I would bake the ribs in a really hot oven, basting with the glaze as you go, until caramelized, charred in places and cooked through.

Coffee Pork Loin

Serves 3-4

Pork and its marinade:

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon five spice

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoon kecap manis

2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

2 egg whites

4 heaped tablespoons cornflour

600g pork ribs, membrane removed   

For the glaze:

4 cloves garlic, chopped

180g weak coffee

5 tablespoons kecap manis

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons cornflour

2 tablespoons water

Oil for deep-frying

White sesame seeds, for garnishing (optional)

Lettuce leaves, for garnishing (optional)

Whisk together the ingredients for the pork marinade and coat the pork ribs well. Allow to marinate for 2 hours at room temperature.

Meanwhile, chop the garlic. Set aside. Stir together the coffee, kecap manis, sugar and salt. The coffee that you use for this recipe should not be overwhelmingly bitter or strong. Stir the cornflour and water together separately and set aside.

Fill a pan or wok with sufficient oil for deep-frying and heat over high heat. Carefully add the pork ribs to the oil – adjust the temperature to about 170C so that the pork ribs do not brown too quickly. When the ribs are nicely browned, remove from the heat. At this point, if you’d like a slightly crispy texture like what you get at zi char stalls, increase the oil temperature to 200C and deep-fry the pork ribs for a few more minutes until crispy. Otherwise, skip straight to the glazing step.

Pour the oil from the wok, leaving about 1 tablespoon oil behind. Fry the garlic until fragrant, then add the coffee mixture. Bring to a boil, before adding the cornflour mixture. Cook over high heat until the mixture reaches a syrupy consistency. Return the pork ribs to the wok and baste it with a spoon, turning it over occasionally. When nicely glazed, remove the coffee ribs to a serving platter and scatter over sesame seeds. If you like, garnish with lettuce leaves.



Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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