Fermented black beans, while not as ubiquitous in Chinese cooking as soy sauce, are a worthy pantry staple for any Chinese cooking aficionado. These little soybeans, packed and fermented in salt, give a pungent dimension to your stir-fry sauces. You may have encountered them before in Cantonese black bean spare ribs (usually served at dim sum) or Sichuan dishes like mapo tofu or twice-cooked pork. Just a tiny amount can add a big whopping amount of umami to your everyday stir-fry.
Yesterday I stir-fried some chicken with the fermented black beans and a little chili oil, a landlubber's take on the Cantonese shrimp in black bean sauce I've eaten many times over. You can find these little beans at any Chinese grocery store, packed in plastic. Before using, rinse them in water or rice wine to get rid of excess grit. I store my black beans in the fridge in a little plastic container, but I know tons of cooks who keep them in cabinets; with tons of salt and no moisture, bacterial growth is minimal.
Do you cooked with fermented black beans, and if so, what's your favorite dish to make with them?
Spicy Black Bean Chicken
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon julienned fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon chili oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chicken and gently stir to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Rinse the black beans to remove any grit. In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a spoon and set aside.
- Prepare the sauce: In another small bowl, combine the rice wine, soy sauce, chili oil, cumin, and paprika. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the chicken and stir-fry until it is no longer pink on the outside but not yet cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and fermented black beans and stir-fry for another minute.
- Add the sauce and scrape the bottom of the wok with a spatula to loosen up any juicy brown bits. Stir to coat the chicken. Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate and serve.