This article explains how to prepare chicken with black bean sauce, a quick and easy Cantonese-style home-cooked recipe.
I am referring to the fermented black bean (also called douchi, 豆豉), a savory condiment in Cantonese cooking. Like cheese, miso, and kimchi, douchi has a strong, pungent flavor with a punch of umami. You can purchase fermented black bean sauce from most Chinese grocery stores. It is also called Black Bean Paste and Black Bean & Garlic Sauce.
However, I will start my preparation by making it from scratch to show you the entire process. The best part of making it is you have complete control of the spiciness and saltiness minus the preservative in the store-bought black bean sauce.
Making a large batch and portioning it is worth it as it is stable in the refrigerator for a few months and longer in the freezer.
Let’s get into the details.
1. What is fermented black bean (douchi)?
Making the Chinese fermented black bean sauce requires a special ingredient called douchi. Douchi is the direct phonetic translation of the two Chinese characters 豆豉.
So what is douchi? It is fermented black beans, not fresh black beans, a.k.a. turtle beans.
The fermented black beans have a pungent, sharp, savory taste with a punch of umami.
Douchi is made by using black soybeans. First, the beans are soaked, steamed, dried, and covered with common rush 灯芯草, then inoculated with the mold spore. After three days, soak and dry again. After that, the beans are fermented with salt for a month, then repeatedly dried and steamed a few times to become the douchi we use in cooking.
2. Ingredients to make black bean sauce
How to make black bean sauce? The main ingredient to make black bean sauce is the douchi (fermented black bean). It is available in most large Chinese grocery stores, or you can also get it online from Amazon.
Fermented black beans
Douchi is sold either in jars or in plastic bags. They are a little sticky and have a strong smell. However, don’t be put off by the smell, as it is perfect after pairing with other aromatic ingredients. You could compare it to some cheese with a strong smell, which you prefer not to eat alone.
Since the black beans are fermented, they are salty and might contain dirt and sand. Therefore, you need to clean them before preparing the sauce.
Here are the steps to prep the fermented black beans:
- First, pour the fermented black beans into a large bowl.
- Fill the large bowl with water, then rinse to remove any dirt and sand. It should be a quick rinse of about ten seconds, and immediately remove the black beans by hand and leave the debris and dirt to sink to the bottom. They have a strong umami taste and are salty. Therefore, do not rinse them too long, which will wash away the flavor and saltiness.
- Place the black beans in a colander to drain, transfer them to a tray, spread them into a single layer, and blow-dry under the fan for one hour. Alternatively, you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The purpose is to keep it as dry as possible, as the following step is to toast it over low heat to bring out its flavor. The beans will break during toasting and flipping if they are too wet.
- Assuming blow-dry the beans are already quite dry, place them in a wok or a pan and toast over low heat until they are all dried up. This process requires patience, as the beans can burn if the pan is too hot. Flip and shake the beans in the pan occasionally to ensure all the beans are dried evenly. You will notice the beans are shiny and wet initially and slowly turning dull. The endpoint is when the douchi is no longer shiny, dull, light, and aromatic. When it is done, remove it and set it aside.
- Toasting the douchi is the secret to making the sauce taste superior.
The aromatics and spices
The aromatics for preparing the black bean sauce are garlic and onion. Besides that, ginger is also used in some recipes, although I did not use it as I felt that the garlic and onion flavor was already sufficient.
If you do not have onion, use shallot or the green section of the scallion as the substitute.
These ingredients should be minced or chopped finely so they turn fragrant quickly when sauteed.
I also include two large chilies in the recipe, which is optional. You can vary the number of chilies according to the level of heat that you prefer.
Some Szechuan-style black bean sauces include Szechuan peppercorns, which renders the tongue-numbing feeling. However, I cook primarily in Cantonese-style, so I have excluded it.
Another ingredient I used is the dried mandarin orange peel or chenpi 陈皮. This item is widely used in Cantonese cuisine. It has a strong aromatic flavor, so a small piece goes a long way. The dried peel must be rehydrated with water first, then scrape away the pith and chop it finely before cooking the sauce.
There are countless ways to make black bean sauce. For example, I have seen some people add dried shrimp as one of the ingredients. Other recipes include crispy fried garlic. I prefer to leave these ingredients out of the basic black bean sauce recipe since I can add these items while cooking. The basic black bean sauce, which consists only of essential ingredients, is more versatile.
The seasonings are light soy sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, cho hou sauce, and sugar. Most of these are familiar ingredients except cho hou sauce, which might be less popular. It is a sauce popular in Hong Kong and famous for making char siu sauce and beef stews. Fortunately, it is not an essential ingredient and can be omitted or substituted with Hoisin sauce.
3. How to prepare the black bean sauce
The preparation is relatively straightforward once you get all the ingredients ready. Therefore, you may consider doubling or triple the amount and keeping the extra in the refrigerator since you can use it to prepare other dishes apart from the chicken with black bean sauce.
Here are the steps:
- Place five tablespoons of vegetable oil in the wok. Heat the oil over medium heat, then saute the chopped onion for one minute, followed by the minced garlic for another minute. I saute the onion before adding the garlic because garlic is dryer, so it takes less time than onion to turn color. I use quite a lot of oil as it will be part of the oil for stir-frying or cooking other dishes. It also helps preserve the sauce as the oil prevents oxidation. This sauce preparation method is also used to make the XO sauce, an expensive Cantonese sauce commonly used in banquet-style Cantonese dishes, particularly during the festive season.
- Next, add the chopped chilies when the garlic starts to turn aromatic.
- The following step is to season it with cho hou sauce, sugar, light soy sauce, and oyster sauce. I do not use dark soy sauce since the color of fermented black beans is black, which means the sauce has no impact on its color. In addition, dark soy sauce does not contribute much flavor.
- Return the toasted black beans to the wok. Give it a good mix, then add Shaoxing wine (or any rice wine), chenpi, and enough water to cover the beans. Simmer over medium heat to soften the beans for about five minutes or until the water has evaporated.
The fermented black bean sauce is ready.
- The black beans in the sauce are still largely as a whole but are pretty soft. You can mash the beans if you want to marinate meat or want them to melt into a dish.
- The amount of black bean sauce required for each recipe depends on the intensity of the flavor you want. There is no fixed amount, but I will generally use 1.5 tbsp for every 100g of meat or vegetables.
4. How to use Chinese black bean sauce
Chinese black bean sauce goes well with almost any ingredients and cooking method. You can use it for stir-frying, steaming, and baking. The chicken in black bean sauce recipe below is prepared with this sauce and some simple vegetables. Besides that, stir-fry with eggplants and tofu, steamed pork ribs, and whole steamed fish are popular dishes in typical Cantonese families. It is also excellent to use it on fried rice and noodles.
It is worth making a large batch and keeping it in separate containers since black bean sauce is ideal for cooking almost everything. If you use sterile bottles (boil the glass bottle in water to kill the germs before use), the sauce is stable for several months when refrigerated. You can freeze it if you intend to keep it longer.
6. Recipe: Chicken with black bean sauce
Here is an example of using it to prepare a quick and easy dish. This chicken and black bean sauce dish can be completed within twenty minutes (minus the marinating time), assuming you have made the sauce in advance.
- Prepare 500g of chicken breast or chicken thigh fillet and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
- Marinate the meat with two tbsp of the homemade black bean sauce, 1 tsp of light soy sauce, half tsp of sesame oil, some black pepper, and 2 tsp of cornstarch for half an hour.
- Cut one medium-sized red onion, one red bell pepper, and one green bell pepper into wedges about the same size as the chicken fillet. (You may use other vegetables, for example, adding some green beans.)
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large wok or a large skillet, stir-fry the onion wedges for two minutes until they turn color, then add the bell peppers and stir-fry for another minute. Remove from wok.
- Put the marinated chicken in the wok and stir-fry over medium heat until cooked. Then add 3 tbsp of the black bean paste. Turn to medium-high heat, and return the vegetables to the wok for quick stirs and flips. Garnish with spring onion (green onions) to serve.
Ingredient A (prepare the black bean sauce)
- 200g Douchi (fermented black beans)
- 5 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp minced onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp minced garlic, minced
- 2 red chilies, chopped
- 1/2 tsp cho hou sauce
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1.5 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1/2 piece of chenpi
- 1/2 cups of water
Ingredients B (stir-fry the chicken)
For preparing the black bean sauce
- Have a quick rinse of the douchi for ten seconds to remove the dirt and sand.
- Drain in a colander, transfer them to a tray, spread them into a single layer, and blow-dry under the fan for one hour.
- Place them in a pan and toast over low heat until they are all dried up. The endpoint is when the douchi is no longer shiny, dull, and light, and aromatic.
- Heat five tablespoons of vegetable oil in the wok. Saute the chopped onion for one minute, followed by the minced garlic for another minute.
- Next, add the chopped chilies when the garlic starts to turn aromatic.
- Season it with cho hou sauce, sugar, light soy sauce, and oyster sauce.
- Return the toasted black beans to the wok. Give it a good mix, then add some Shaoxing wine, chenpi, and just enough water to cover the beans.
- Simmer over medium heat to soften the beans for about five minutes or until the water has evaporated.
For stir-frying chicken
- Cut 500g of chicken breast or chicken thigh into one-inch lengths.
- Marinate the meat with light soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, and cornstarch, and black bean sauce for half an hour.
- Cut one medium-sized onion, one red bell pepper, and one green bell pepper into wedges, about the same size as the chicken fillet.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in the wok, stir-fry the onion wedges for two minutes until they start to turn color, then add the bell peppers and stir-fry for another minute. Remove from wok.
- Put the marinated chicken in the wok, stir-fry over medium heat until cooked. Then add the black bean paste. Turn up the heat, and return the vegetables to the wok to have a few quick stirs and flips. Serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 811Total Fat: 39gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 31gCholesterol: 148mgSodium: 3889mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 9gSugar: 14gProtein: 61g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 10/24/2021