Pungent, aromatic, earthy and salty, fermented black beans provide unique and complex flavours to many Chinese dishes.
Fermented black beans (Douchi 豆豉), also known as black beans, is a very popular flavouring in Chinese cuisine. They are black soybeans preserved by being fermented with salt and spices. They look dark, dry and wrinkled and they are much softer than dry soybeans.
Pungent, aromatic, earthy, salty, bitter and sweet, fermented black beans are quite unique in terms of flavour. They are primarily used as follows:
- Directly in a dish. You need to rinse black beans thoroughly under running water, then dry them before cutting them coarsely (you may use whole beans, but cutting helps to release the flavour). They are used to season all kinds of ingredients, such as vegetables, tofu, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, fish and seafood, noodles, etc. The cooking methods include stir frying, steaming and braising. You can find fermented black beans used in dishes like Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐, signature dish of Sichuan cuisine), Steamed spare ribs with black beans(豉汁蒸排骨, popular Cantoness dim-sum), etc.
- Used to make black bean sauce (or paste), a versatile sauce often paired with garlic. Ready-to-use black bean sauce is widely available in all the Asian/Chinese shops, as well as Western supermarkets which sell Asian/Chinese foods. You can also easily make this sauce in your own kitchen. I wrote a post on three versions of homemade spicy black beans (you may skip chilli in the recipe if you don’t fancy hot taste). Suggested usage is also provided in that post.
I usually use dry fermented black beans (left in the photo) which has a more authentic flavour in my opinion. Yang Jiang preserved beans (阳江姜豉) is a reputable variety. You can find salted black beans too. The beans are soaked in salty and sweet liquid and they have a harder texture (right in the photo).