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Inner beauty: Fermented black beans

What they lack in looks, fermented black beans more than make up for in flavour

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

The fermented black beans known in Cantonese as dou si might not look all that appealing, but they're deliciously intense. Their deep umami flavour goes well with many other ingredients, including all types of meat and seafood.

 

Chicken with black bean sauce (pictured)

 

1 fresh chicken, about 1.2kg
25ml soy sauce
25ml rice wine
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
5 grams cornstarch
Cooking oil
40 grams fermented black beans
6-10 shallots
2 garlic cloves
1-2 slices peeled ginger (about 2mm thick)
2 large green chillies
1 red bird's-eye chilli (or more to taste)
2 spring onions

 

Remove the head, neck, feet and wing tips from the chicken (discard the head but use the other parts to make chicken soup). Cut the chicken through the bone into bite-sized pieces then put them in a bowl. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper, cornstarch and 10ml of cooking oil. Mix thoroughly then leave at room temperature for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Briefly rinse the black beans then put them in a bowl and add about 60ml of hot water. Soak for about 30 minutes or longer. Peel the shallots then quarter them lengthwise, through the tip and root. Peel the garlic cloves and slice them about 3mm thick. Cut the large green chillies into 5mm slices. Cut the bird's-eye chilli in half lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds. Thinly slice the chilli. Cut the spring onion into 2cm pieces.

Heat a wok over a medium-high flame and, when it's hot, add cooking oil to a depth of about 8cm. Heat the oil to 180 degrees Celsius. Stir the chicken to coat it with the marinade, then add about half of it to the hot oil. Use a long-handled spatula to stir the chicken and fry it for about 45 seconds. Remove the chicken from the wok and drain it on paper towels. Cook the remaining chicken the same way. Pour most of the oil from the wok, but do not wash it.

Set the wok over a high flame and add the shallot, garlic and ginger. Stir the ingredients constantly for about 30 seconds then add the chillies. Stir briefly then put the chicken pieces back into the wok and add the fermented black beans and soaking liquid. Thoroughly combine the ingredients then scrape them to the centre of the wok. Turn the flame to low, cover the wok with the lid and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, stirring often. If needed, stir in a little more water to prevent the ingredients from sticking to the wok. When the chicken is ready, remove the lid and turn the flame to medium-high. Stir constantly until the sauce coats the chicken. Transfer the ingredients to a serving dish and scatter the spring onion on top. Serve with steamed white rice and green vegetables.

 

Stir-fried squid with celery and black beans

 

10 fresh squid, with bodies about 8cm in length
30ml cooking oil
2-3 celery stalks
1 small onion
2-3 garlic cloves
2 slices peeled ginger (about 2mm thick)
10-15 grams preserved black beans
15ml soy sauce
15ml Chinese rice wine
A pinch of ground white pepper
1/8 tsp granulated sugar
2 spring onions
2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
5ml sesame oil

 

Clean the squid by pulling the tentacles from the body - most of the innards will come out at the same time. Reach into the body to pull out the quill and remove any remaining innards. Clean out the cavity thoroughly. Remove any purplish skin from the body. Rinse the body inside and out with running water, then cut it into rings about 5mm thick. Cut off and discard the face and beak from the tentacles. Put the tentacles with the squid rings and dry them as much as possible with paper towels.

Briefly rinse the black beans under running water then put them in a small bowl with 20ml of hot water. Leave them to soak for about 30 minutes then use a spoon to roughly mash the beans. Cut the onion into bite-sized pieces and cut the garlic cloves in half. Slice the celery on the diagonal into 5mm-thick pieces. Cut the spring onions into 2cm lengths. Mix the soy sauce with the rice wine, pepper and sugar.

Heat a wok over a high flame until it's very hot then add the cooking oil. Add the onion and celery and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant. Add the squid, black beans and soaking liquid and soy sauce mixture. Stir constantly until the squid is barely cooked (about a minute). Mix in the spring onion. If the mixture seems dry, add about 60ml of water. Quickly stir the cornstarch and water to recombine it (the cornstarch sinks to the bottom) before adding it to the wok. Stir the ingredients constantly until the liquid thickens slightly. Mix in the sesame oil then transfer the ingredients to a plate and serve with steamed white rice.

 

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