Pungent, aromatic, earthy and salty, fermented black beans provide unique and complex flavours to many Chinese dishes.
Fermented black beans, known as Dou Chi (豆豉) in Chinese, are a very popular flavouring in Chinese cuisine. They are black soybeans preserved by being fermented with salt and spices.
Pungent, aromatic, earthy, salty, bitter and sweet, they have a quite unique and complex flavour. There isn’t any other ingredients that can be used as a substitute.
Where to buy
You can find fermented black beans in most Chinese/Asian stores. I recommend the dry version (left in the image above) which has a pronounced, complex flavour. Yang Jiang preserved beans with ginger (Yang Jiang Jiang Chi/阳江姜豉) is a reputable variety.
Another variety is often named as salted black beans (right in the image above). The beans are soaked in salty and sweet liquid and they have a saltier taste and firmer texture than the dried version. I personally don’t find this version appealing.
How to use
Directly used in a dish
You need to rinse fermented 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.
Here are some classic examples:
Made into a sauce
Fermented black beans can be also 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 Asian/Chinese shops, as well as mainstream supermarkets which have a Asian/Chinese food section.
Making you own black bean sauce is easy. My post Homemade spicy black beans sauce shows you how to make it into three versions (classic, with meaty or mushroom). Using this sauce, you can make delicious Braised pork ribs.