Black bean sauce, made with fermented soybeans, is a staple of American Chinese restaurants. I’ve never been favorably impressed with it before, though; in restaurants it usually tastes like a bland version of oyster sauce.
When a friend rhapsodized about the flavor of black bean sauce (and sent me a baggie of black beans to try), I decided to experiment. Everybody who tried it is glad that I did.
My local supermarket had a good sale on boneless pork chops, so black beans and pork it shall be.
My friend Google and I sorted through a number of recipes. I started by rejecting any that had major ingredients that I lack, but they all did- how many of you have Shaoxing wine on your shelves? I didn’t have sherry, gin, or anything even close, so I subbed in some rice wine. (Update: Shaxing is cheap in my local Oriental market- I have some now)
Once I found a recipe that I liked (I liked it because it cooks the food in batches, as I’ve read is typical in mainland Chinese cooking), with substitutions that seemed rational, I waded in.
Cheap pork chops usually come with a generous layer of fat. Mine were no exception. I trimmed them and sliced them into large, regular chunks. I tossed them into a quart ziplock bag with a soy-based marinade and left them in the fridge for two hours.
Soy sauce is salty. Soaking pork (or chicken, fish, or other frequently-dry meats) in a salty water solution is also called brining. It’s part of the koshering process (on chicken… I don’t think that there is a process to make pork kosher!). It can turn even lean chicken breast moist and flavorful. In this case, since I had removed all the obvious fat from my pork chops, it meant that I would get juicy pork instead of dusty dry meat.
Garlic and ginger are a classic flavor combination in Cantonese cooking. I cut the ‘rind’ off of about an inch of ginger root and minced it, then pressed the garlic cloves.
The original recipe had called for red bell peppers and water chestnuts, both of which are now on my shopping list. For tonight, I added two cans of straw mushrooms and a chopped onion instead.
My stove is a basic American range/cooktop. It I were working in a Chinese restaurant, or had hit the lottery and owned a Wolf range, there would be a lot more heat available, to the point that things would cook much more quickly. Since I’m dealing with wimpy heat, I do not need to (for instance) discard the garlic and ginger after cooking them- on a better stove they would be burned to bitterness but their flavor would have blessed the oil. In this case, I leave them in, because I like them, but if you have a better stove than I do, beware that they may burn quickly.
So, I heated a tablespoon of peanut oil over the full (wimpy) heat that my stove provides, and swirled the oil to coat the wok. I added the ginger and garlic and sauteed them for a few minutes until they were aromatic, then added the veggies.
Onions are great communicators. When they start to become translucent (about eight minutes for me) they are ready to scoop out into a bowl and move on to the meat. If the onions start to brown, or get crispy, you’ve cooked them a bit too long, but it is not a tragedy.
I added another tablespoon of oil, swirled and heated it, then added the pork. I generally like to play with food, but it is important to leave the pork alone for four minutes or so so that the surface that is on the wok gets crispy. Once that happens, stir the pork up so that another surface gets cooked. Once two surfaces have cooked, stir it one more time, add the veggies, pour on the sauce, and cover the wok for the next five or ten minutes.
As a side note, trichinosis is really nothing to play with. If all of your pork pieces are very nearly the same size, pick three of them and cut them open. If they are white all the way through, you are good. If there is even a hint of pink, please don’t kill your guests. Let the mix cook for another few minutes and check again. If your pork pieces are a bit more ‘free form’ and not the same size, pick the biggest three you can find for the investigation.
Traditionally, this would be served on rice. Tonight I felt like being good (I try to stay low carb) so I just served it as is, with no starch.
- 2 lbs boneless pork chops, all fat trimmed, sliced into even cubes
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 TB fermented black soy beans, well rinsed
- 2 TB oyster sauce
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 1 TB sesame oil
- 1 TB cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB water
- 2 TB peanut oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cans straw mushrooms, drained
- 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1″ of ginger root, peeled and minced
- In a quart zip lock bag, mix the 2 TB soy sauce, baking soda, salt, sugar, pepper and water. Once the powders have dissolved, add the pork and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- In a small bottle or cup, mix the black beans, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch and water. Stir it well and set aside.
- Add one tablespoon of oil to the wok, swirl to coat, and put over high heat. When the wok is hot (you should be able to put a drop of water in the wok and have it jump and dance, not just steam away), add the ginger and garlic. Stir often for two to three minutes, until your kitchen smells like a gingery garlicky paradise.
- Add the onion and mushrooms and stir well. Keep the veggies moving every minute or two until the onions start to become translucent, then scoop all the veggies out into a bowl. Use a paper towel (carefully, it is easy to burn yourself doing this) to wipe out any stray bits of garlic.
- Drain the pork in a strainer to let the marinade run off. Discard the used marinade.
- Add the last tablespoon of oil and swirl the wok. When it comes up to temperature, add the pork to the pan.
- Leave the pork alone for three to five minutes, until it is crackling quietly and has formed a nice brown grilled appearance on one side, then stir it so that another side gets to brown up.
- Leave the pork alone for another three to five minutes. When it has browned on the second side, stor it once more to expose another side to heat, then add the veggies and sauce.
- Cover the wok and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes, then take out the largest three pieces of pork you can find and cut them open to check that they are completely cooked.
- Serve over rice or rice noodles, or on its own.