You're trying to branch out in the kitchen, so you're attempting a new recipe. Most of the ingredients you recognize, but there are a few that are out of the norm. Often, it doesn't matter too much if you substitute an ingredient for something that sounds similar- Thai basil and basil? Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano? Either one will be delicious! However, when you see "fermented black beans" on the list, be warned that these aren't your standard black beans.
What Are Fermented Black Beans?
It's not much of a stretch of the imagination to picture regular black beans that have been fermented. However, fermented black beans are actually a totally different bean than the ones you're used to! Fermented black beans, which are also called salted black beans, Chinese fermented black beans, black soybeans, or douchi, are a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine. They are often used to make black bean sauce, which is a tasty addition to fish, meat, mapo tofu and stir fry.
These savory beans are created from black soybeans, and they're made by salting and fermenting them. Along with being made into black bean sauce, these beans can be turned into black bean paste, a popular Cantonese condiment. Black soybeans are a totally different bean than the one we're used to eating in our tacos and enchiladas, and they taste very different.
Cooking With Fermented Black Beans
Although this may sound intimidating, you can easily make tasty recipes with these black beans! Before cooking with them, thoroughly rinse your beans to get rid of the excess salt. It's best to soak them for a few minutes in a liquid- rice wine, soy sauce, or just water will work fine. The longer you soak them, the softer your beans will be.
After soaking to reduce their saltiness, simply follow your recipe. Some Sichuan recipes call for whole fermented black beans, while others will have you chop or puree them. If you put them in at the beginning of a recipe, they'll add a light umami flavor, but when added at the end of cooking, they'll taste stronger.
In Chinese cooking, these tasty beans are often made into a condiment because of their strong, funky flavor. Sauces and pastes impart their yummy, fermented taste without being overpowering. They go well with seasonings like ginger, garlic and chilies. Although fermented black beans have a strong, distinctive taste, they are amazingly versatile. You can find them used in Chinese dishes to flavor spareribs or clams, along with being added to bitter melon or veggie stir fry.
Where to Find Them
If you're ready to go on a fermented soybean cooking adventure, you may be wondering where to buy them. This unique ingredient can't be found at your basic grocery store, so you'll have to head to an Asian market or an international grocery store. There, you can find them sold in small plastic bags or jars, along with premade black bean paste or sauce. If buying them whole, find dry ones that are in a fully sealed container for best results. Alternatively, you can find them online on Amazon or Asian food websites.
Once you've found yourself a supply of fermented black beans, transfer them to an airtight container and store in a cool dark place. They will last for up to a year if kept in these conditions. As for black bean sauce, this has a shelf life of two years when unopened. Enjoy your delicious, funky fermented black beans!