I'm partial to micro-organisms, and not only because I work with them everyday. Bacteria and yeast are responsible for a huge range of helpful "transformations" that make the world around us what it is: digesting organic waste, fixing nitrogen and enriching soil that way... one could go on forever. On the other hand micro-organisms are not something you're likely to consider or think about when cooking. More often they'll be mentioned in regards to food poisoning. Every few years a new "bad guy" gets media attention. Sure there are quite a few little critters that range from unpleasant to plain dangerous it would be irresponsible to deny this. But how many gastronomic delicacies would not be there without these little single-celled creatures? Just to mention a few, wine, beer, vinegar, cheese, cured meats, yogurt, soy sauce, many pickles and clearly my favourite, bread, all taste and are the way we know them because of micro-organisms. Wouldn't our choice of food be a whole lot sadder without the work of these little bugs? Today I wanted to talk about the last addition to my "favourite fermented foods" list: Chinese fermented black beans
Fermented black beans, actually a sort of soy beans, are probably a very old example of the use of fermentation to preserve food. According to some authors these beans are probably the precursor of soy sauce. There's probably a lot more to know about them that I ignore. But one thing I know for sure: black beans make a delicious stir-fry sauce! My first taste of black bean sauce happened in the UK. For some mysterious reason the many Chinese restaurants I used to visit in Naples seemed to completely ignore this much loved (everywhere else that is) menu item. There are plenty of commercial black bean sauces on sale, even here in Germany, but they really don't match up with the fragrance of what one can cook, with a minimum of effort, at home.
The basic black bean stir fry gets its fragrance from a mix of chopped garlic, ginger and green onion and some chopped fermented black beans. The smell of these four stir frying together is just fantastic. Every time I prepare this Daniela will pop into the chicken and inevitably say something like: "this sure smells good!". As main ingredients for the stir fry white-fleshed fish, chicken and tofu all go nicely with black beans, but my favourite is with no doubt squid. Sometimes green peppers or Chinese pea pods (or snowpeas) are added too. To make the sauce usually the following are added: soy sauce, cooking wine, a little sugar, cornstarch and either water or some stock. For a more precise recipe have a look here. I usually don't follow a particular recipe. There's one thing I wonder about though: are fermented black beans used in any other way in Chinese cooking? If you know, I'd be very thankful if you could drop a line below.