Friday, January 18, 2013

Fermented BBs: Spicy Black Bean Beef

The Wine of Truth is not fermented from molasses. – Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Fermented black beans: one of my favourite Asian ingredients.

Related recipes:

Have you ever had fermented black beans? No, these aren’t the black turtle bans sold in big cans and used in a lot of Mexican cooking. They're good for you too, though, and you should be eating them...

These black beans are soy beans that have been fermented with salt. As the green edamame beans dry and cure they turn completely black and take on a salty, pungent and winey (I would also say delicious) flavour.

Photo: Andrea Nguyen, Flickr ccl
Because of the strong flavour black beans are most often paired with other strong flavours like garlic and chillies. Hmmm, that’s exactly what’s in this recipe…

They're really very useful to have in your pantry. The food editor of The Los Angeles Times, Russ Parsons, called them a versatile staple.

Fermented black beans are often in Cantonese Chinese dishes. A famous one is Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. The link to my version (using lobster) is at the top of this post. Just substitute one pound (454 g) of shrimp for the lobster.

It is one of my two most favourite Chinese recipes. The other is dry fried Szechuan beef (recipe HERE). They’re perfect for an easy homemade “gourmet” Chinese dinner.

Fermented black beans are sold in Asian markets in cans and plastic bags. They’re only about 1/4” long, and very shrivelled. They look very unpromising. Don’t be fooled. This is a signature flavour in probably more than a few of your favourite Chinese take-out dishes.

Some people rinse black beans because they impart too much salty flavour. I never have and couldn’t imagine ever doing it. Perhaps black beans come in different saltiness levels. Once a bag or can is opened you should store them in the refrigerator. They will last for at least a year and don’t cost very much at all.

If you don’t have an Asian grocery close by look for little jars of pre-mashed black beans or black bean sauce in your local grocery in their International section.

They’re not nearly as good as a bag of beans, but if you’re in a pinch… I haven’t been able to find an Asian grocery outside of Halifax city limits. If anyone knows of any in rural Nova Scotia let me know!

If you want to try a recipe that uses them this one’s not too offensive. Nothing too weird is going on in the ingredients except for the black beans.

Bok choy is fairly readily available throughout the province in grocery stores. The Superstore almost always has them.

You should start cooking rice before you start the beef. And make sure that you have everything chopped before that. This recipe, like most Asian recipes, comes together really fast.

Spicy Black Bean Beef
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Serves 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2” piece of fresh ginger, diced
2 dried chilli peppers, diced (2 tsp chilli flakes), or to taste
1-1/2 tbsp fermented black beans, crushed
1 lb beef steak, thinly sliced
3 baby bok choy, chopped
1/2 cup beef broth
2 tbsp soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch

Heat the oil in a wok. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and dried chilli. Sauté for a couple minutes until fragrant.

Crush the fermented black beans and add to the wok. Sauté for a further minute.

Slice the beef as thin as you can and add the spices to the wok. Toss and cook until almost all the pink is gone.

Chop the bok choy and add. Mix the broth with the soy and cornstarch. 

Pour the sauce into the wok and let the mixture cook until the sauce has thickened, the beef has finished cooking through and the bok choy is heated.

Serve with plenty of hot white rice.


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