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Black Bean Sauce: Salty Yet Delicious

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Black bean sauce solves the old adage, “never run out of an ingredient you need over and over.” Sauce is an ingredient that should never be absent in your kitchen, and Chinese black beans sauce is worthy of being that sauce.

Sauces are used pretty regularly, and some people might even go as far as using them every single day. Well, if you had a good sauce around like Chinese black bean sauce, you would be very tempted to use it every day too.

Yes, it’s that good. This black bean sauce is made from fermented black beans and garlic as its main ingredients, and it’s one of the most versatile sauces available on the market. Though not so common in non-Asian food shops, it surely deserves more attention than it is getting. For now, it will just have to make do with the attention it’s getting from being constantly used in Chinese takeout.

Having this sauce around will help your quest to delve deeper into awesome Chinese cuisine. Almost every Chinese dish, if not all, makes use of at least one type of Chinese sauce, or a mix of sauces. But the good thing is that one sauce can easily be substituted for another, depending on the taste and flavor you like.

The black bean sauce is in the class of salty Chinese sauces, however, it can be made a little sweeter by adding sugar. The amount of sugar added depends wholly on you. So before we get to our recipe, let’s talk about the sauce for a little bit.

Black Beans Sauce with Garlic

From the name, there are black beans, there’s garlic, and it’s a sauce. The sauce is extremely popular in China, and if there’s one thing we’ve come to know about sauce, it’s that a good sauce never stays in one place. It travels—which is exactly what this sauce has done.

It has traveled far and wide, starting with other neighboring Asian countries like Korea, the Philippines, and Japan. Now, it’s all over the world. Though it is not quite as popular as ketchup, it’s much better than ketchup.

Trust me, you will love this sauce.

So the first thing you should know about this sauce is that it isn’t sweet. If you’re interested in a sweet sauce, then hoisin sauce, another Chinese variety, is right for you. But with a little sugar in this black beans garlic sauce, the sweetness you desire can be created.

The second thing is that it isn’t spicy. Though the sauce isn’t originally spicy, you can make yours spicy with some chili pepper or with Sichuan peppercorns.

Thirdly about this sauce is the most amazing thing about it. It has a deep umami flavor. You see why this is the most amazing thing about it, right? To be quite honest, the word umami just has a way of drawing listeners close to the dish it is being used to describe. The deep umami flavor comes from the fermented black beans that are used in making the sauce. If you truly want to enjoy this sauce, then your only option is to go for fermented black beans.

What should be the fourth thing? Erm, that it should be salty. I earlier mentioned that the sauce is salty and that’s very true, so when using this sauce, it’s advisable you reduce the amount of salt required in the recipe of your dish.

You can even take out the salt in the recipe altogether. Don’t get me wrong, this salty sauce is really enjoyable, but you may not love it so much if it makes your dish too salty. So it’s either you reduce the amount of salt significantly or you reduce the amount of sauce significantly instead—so which would you prefer to reduce?

Ordinary salty flavor, or deep umami salty flavor?

Another interesting thing you should know if you are planning on following the black beans sauce recipe is that the black beans being used are not regular black beans. If the black beans you’ve been thinking about aren’t black soybeans, then you’ve been thinking about these beans all wrong. And that brings us to…

What Type Of Black Beans Should I Use?

Regular black beans, also known as turtle beans, are not the black beans being referred to at all. Just in case you’ve made this sauce with turtle beans and it didn’t taste like the one in your Chinese takeout, well, now you know why.

The type of beans that should be used are black soybeans. Really, there is no alternative or substitute for these beans. White soybeans are close to making the cut but they just wouldn’t give you the same flavor that black soybeans will.

How do you prepare your black soybeans?

The black soybeans are not used directly. They are first fermented and salted to make what is called douchi in Chinese. Thus, the chief ingredient for making Chinese black beans sauce (or fermented black beans sauce) is fermented black soybeans that have been salted. Remember, it is the fermentation process that brings about the beans’ deep umami flavor. When white soybeans are fermented and salted, they are called mianchi. And mianchi has its own peculiar taste and culinary prowess, too.

The process of fermenting black beans is a quite tedious and delicate process. Factors such as temperature, time, type of container, and quality of wine used all go a long way in influencing the quality of the douchi. Getting one of these steps wrong could ruin the entire thing.

So to be on the very safer side, do not try to make douchi (fermented black beans) at home. Storebought douchi are made well enough so all you have to do is go for a really good brand. Douchi can be easily purchased in Asian shops and if there’s no Asian food servicer around you, you can always order these online.

Douchi, or fermented black beans, is a Chinese condiment and seasoning used in the making of many Chinese dishes. The use of douchi dates as far back as 165 BC. As one of the oldest foods being made from soybeans, it has got a few nice historical tales spun around it. The douchi is not meant to be consumed by itself because of its saltiness.

In Chinese cuisine, douchi is an ingredient for fermented black beans sauce, steamed fish dishes, steamed ribs, mapo tofu, and furthermore it is used to flavor fish and for stir-frying.

Douchi appears in many other cuisines, like Japanese and Vietnamese, but here it bears very different names. If you live in these places where it goes by a different name, fermented black beans and not douchi should be what you ask for.

After being made, Douchi is stored dried or in brine, but after purchasing a pack, you can keep it in a Ziplock bag and freeze to make it last longer.

Black Beans Sauce Recipe

Now that you’re super familiar with the backstory, it’s time to make some homemade black beans sauce! Preparation and cooking time should take no more than 20 minutes.

This recipe is for a spicy black beans sauce but you can increase or reduce the amount of spiciness depending on how much your taste buds can handle. Mine can handle quite a lot, all thanks to the many times my sister accidentally added way too much pepper into our meals while we were growing up. It all started as an accident but now, everyone in the family except my brother loves spicy foods. In this recipe, I would say the spiciness is just average. So stay calm.

Here’s what you’ll need to make this sauce:

  •  3 tablespoons of fermented black beans (douchi).
  •  2 tablespoons of cooking oil.
  •  2 tablespoons of garlic, finely minced.
  •  1 tablespoon of light soy sauce.
  •  2 green onions or white onions, finely chopped.
  •  2 tablespoons of ginger, finely minced (optional).
  •  Half a cup of vegetable or chicken broth.
  •  2 tablespoons of Chinese Shaoxing rice wine or dry Sherry.
  •  1 teaspoon of sugar, preferably brown sugar. You can increase or reduce the amount of sugar.
  •  Half a teaspoon of rice vinegar.
  •  Dried or fresh red chilies, de-seeded and chopped.
  • 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns, hot red pepper sauce, or sambal oelek (optional).

Method of preparation:

Rinse the fermented black beans with running water. Drain and then chop the beans coarsely. For a fine chopping, you can use a food processor to mince the black beans. You can also leave a few beans whole.

Pour the oil into a wok or frying pan, adding the Sichuan peppercorns, onions, chilies, and ginger. Cook over medium heat. Once the ginger turns brown, remove the ginger, onions and the Sichuan peppercorns. You can also discard the chilies, which should be dark, not black.

Now add the beans. At first, they will absorb the oil, but later, they’ll release it again. Be careful not to overcook the beans because it will make the sauce bitter.

Add every other ingredient to the wok and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Then, remove from heat.

To store your spicy black beans sauce after cooling, keep it in an airtight jar and store it in the fridge. While in the fridge, black beans sauce can last for about 2 weeks. You only need to store it if you’re not using it right away.

Notes:

Most lists for black beans sauce ingredients call for the cornstarch to be dissolved in water so that it makes a slurry, but this recipe doesn’t because black beans sauce made with cornstarch slurry does not freeze well. However, you can always add some cornstarch slurry to your sauce when reheating it.

Most recipes also call for chicken or vegetable broth. If you’re wondering why it is absent from this recipe, it’s because it reduces the shelf life of the homemade black bean sauce. You want a sauce that you can keep for future use. Not one that’s for the present only. However, if you really want it you can use about 2 teaspoons of chicken bouillon powder.

You don’t have to discard the onions, but you will have to wait a little longer for them to get tender before removing the sauce from heat. Even the chilies don’t have to be discarded: their bright red colors will give your sauce a good aesthetic. Same with the ginger. These ingredients were added for their aroma and flavor, and thus can be discarded after their aroma and flavor have infused into the oil.

A good substitute for the light soy sauce would be tamari, if you want a gluten-free option.

Be very careful not to let the sauce burn while being stir-fried. Always stir; don’t stop stirring.

And here’s a quick trick for you:

An easy way to peel your cloves of garlic will be to first press them hard. You can use a ladle for this.

Lastly, some people soak their fermented black beans for an hour before draining and then chopping them. You could do this too if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. But really, it’s a step that can be skipped so why not?

That’s all there is to this recipe. Some other optional ingredients are pure sesame oil and rice vinegar. You can add these for more flavor. Now that you have made your vegan black beans sauce, all that’s left is to ladle it on a dish.

Surely you don’t plan to take a spoon and gulp everything down, do you?

If not, check out the next section of this article.

How To Use The Vegan Black Bean Sauce

This sauce is vegan and yes, it can be enjoyed as a complement to a totally vegan dish. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it in meaty dishes too. As a matter of fact, your sauce can hold a good quantity of minced pork or beef.

If you are adding minced pork or beef, add them into your sauce at step 2 (see methods of preparation) after you’ve discarded the spices. Fry the marinated minced pork or beef (you have to marinate first) until the meat turns light brown, and before adding the beans and other ingredients. Now, let’s get back on track on ways we can use our black beans sauce: both meaty or vegan black beans sauce.

  • Stir-frying: With your spicy black beans sauce, stir-frying just became more flavorful and tasty. You can use it to stir-fry basically anything.
  • Use on your fried rice: Everyone loves fried rice—the fast and easy-to-make dish gets tastier with a few tablespoons of this sauce. If your fried rice recipe calls for salt or any salty ingredient, do not forget to adjust the amount of those ingredients considerably.
  • Use on Chinese noodle dishes: Definitely one of the best options for this sauce. Try it.
  • Use on chicken dishes.
  • Use on veggies like bok choy or stir-fried celery for an umami flavor.
  • Tofu: You can enjoy this sauce with tofu. For superb tofu with black beans sauce, only use fresh tofu and don’t you dare blanch that tofu.

You can also use it on braised spare ribs or shiitake mushrooms (or both, if you’re that hungry).

Those are just a few ways you can use this sauce. Let the foodie in you explore more ways you can enjoy it. Making this sauce in your own kitchen is absolutely better than buying it from shops because chances are your homemade black beans sauce will taste better than the store-bought alternative. What’s more? You can be guaranteed that there are no additives or preservatives, so it’s the healthier choice.

And if you can’t get douchi to make this sauce, you can go for other Chinese sauces like hoisin sauce, Sichuan sauce, Chinese brown bean sauce, chili bean sauce etc.

Black bean sauce is one sauce that’s never going to lose its importance in your kitchen. It’s an everyday condiment. The lightly sharp and pungent touch of garlic, spicy addition of the chillies, Sichuan peppercorns or cayenne pepper (if you added it), and the salty tang of the douchi all work together to make this sauce irresistible. Oh, let’s not forget the hint of sweetness that can be created by adding a little sugar. Enjoy!

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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