Most Chinese restaurant renditions of stir-fried dishes with black bean sauce are one note affairs. Then tend toward being salty and not much else. They are rarely well-balanced preparations because the fermented black beans standout too prominently. When you make such dishes at home, you are in command of the seasonings and can add nuance. You can tweak the flavors to coax out the tangy, winy qualities of the black beans.
Someone asked recently if buying black bean sauce in the jar is okay. My response was: it is NOT okay.
Prepared “black bean sauce” is like jarred or canned spaghetti sauce. All you need to make a great Chinese-style black bean sauce are fermented black beans (which are actually salted black soybeans). Similarly, all you need for a terrific spaghetti sauce is a stash of good tomatoes! Why let someone else mix up the sauce for you?
Where do you buy fermented black beans? Head to a Chinese market. The beans are sold in little plastic bags or in cylindrical paper cartons with some preserved ginger thrown in. I prefer the paper carton, though you have to buy a large amount. Once home, put the black beans in a jar and refrigerate.
Fermented black beans are also sold online, should you not live near a Chinese market. As long as you have the black beans, this dish comes together quickly.Should you rinse fermented black beans before using them? It’s up to you. For delicate applications as in this stir-fry recipe, rinse them to remove some of the saltiness. For punchy preparations, such as those in the Sichuan repertoire, leave the salted fermented black beans in their lusty, earthy primal state.
Garlic, ginger, and chile go hand in hand with fermented black bean in a stir-fry such as this one. If you're new to stir-frying with fermented black beans, this is a great recipe to work off of. You'll understand how the ingredients come together.
Have questions or tips on using fermented black beans (there are lots of them in a package)? Add them down below!
Stir-Fried Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
You can go low-fat by using chicken breast but why not use chicken thigh and enjoy a smaller portion? I've halved this recipe and it was just fine!Serves 2 or 3 as a main course with rice or 4 as part of a multicourse meal
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thigh, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed briefly and drained
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon dark (thick) soy sauce
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
1 small red onion, cut into thin wedges (3/4 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal (1 cup0
1 scallion, finely shredded
1. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of the rice wine, light soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the oil. Stir to combine.
2. In a small bowl, mash the fermented black beans with the garlic, ginger, and dark soy sauce. In another small bowl, combine the broth and remaining 1 tablespoon of rice wine. Set aside.
3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, add the red onion and red pepper flakes, then use a spatula to stir-fry for 30 seconds or until the onions begin to wilt.
Push the onions to the sides of the wok, carefully add the chicken, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to sear. Stir-fry for 1 minute or until the chicken is lightly browned but not cooked through.
Add the carrots and black bean mixture, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until fragrant. Swirl the broth mixture into the wok, sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the shredded scallion. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from: Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge (Simon & Schuster, 2010) by Grace Young