Mom’s black bean spareribs

 

My mom mixed bite-sized chunks of pork spareribs with a pungent mix of fermented black beans, garlic, and ginger. As the pork steamed, this combo of seasonings infused the pork with savory punch and filled the kitchen with mouth-watering aromas. In about an hour, with relatively little hands-on work, a succulent, intensely flavorful dish emerged.

Although the Cantonese also claim this dish, I prefer my mom’s more robust Hakka version. She used a generous measure of fermented black beans and often coarsely crushed them with the garlic and ginger to release their essence. She mixed the paste with soy sauce and the pork, then steamed the meat until meltingly tender.

Fermented black beans (aka preserved or salted black beans)

The fermented black beans (also called salted or preserved black beans), are small black soybeans fermented with salt and spices until soft and pungent. Add to meats, seafood, and stir-fries to contribute a distinctive funky, earthy flavor. Look for the beans in small plastic pouches or cardboard cartons in Asian markets.

Mom’s Black Bean Pork Spareribs

Ask the butcher to saw across the spareribs to make about 1 inch wide strips. Most Asian markets sell ribs precut into strips. Serve with hot rice to soak up the plentiful juices.

Makes 4 main-course servings or 6 to 8 servings as part of a multi-course meal

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) or dry Sherry

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 pounds pork spareribs, sawed across bone into 1-inch wide strips

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion (optional)

 

1. In a wide shallow heatproof rimmed dish that will fit inside a steamer such as a 9-inch Pyrex pie dish, mix soy sauce, wine, and cornstarch. (If desired, for a more intense flavor, lightly crush fermented black beans, garlic, and ginger in a mortar and to make a coarse paste. Skip this step for a chunkier texture.) Mix fermented black beans, garlic, and ginger with soy mixture.

2. Trim off and discard large pads of surface fat off pork. Cut ribs apart between bones. Add pork to soy mixture and mix to coat.

3. Set dish on a rack over boiling water in a steamer or wok. Cover and steam over high heat until pork is tender to bite, 50 to 60 minutes. If water evaporates before steaming is complete, add more boiling water as needed. Carefully remove dish from steamer. Skim fat from juices and discard. Garnish with green onions.

 

 

Fermented black beans

The key ingredients in black bean and garlic sauce are pungent, earthy fermented black beans and garlic.

The secret to adding robust, savory, salty nuances to food comes in the form of small black beans. These flavor capsules are soy beans fermented with salt and spices until pungent and aromatic. Called fermented black beans, salted black beans, preserved black beans or dou chi or dul see, they magically add a remarkable depth of flavor.

For instance, my mother often stir-fried cauliflower with fermented black beans. She would rinse the beans, then mash them with garlic with the end of the wood handle of her cleaver to make a coarse paste. She would mix the paste with minced fresh ginger and a little soy sauce. Then she would stir-fry the sauce with ground beef and cauliflower. The sauce contributed a earthy pungency to the somewhat bland cauliflower The recipe is on page 27 of The Hakka Cookbook. If you’re in a hurry, use a purchased black bean and garlic sauce found in many supermarkets. I find the Lee Kum Kee brand to be a good, widely available brand.

Chinese comfort food, Cauliflower and Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Look for fermented black beans  sold in plastic bags or round yellow cartons in Asian markets. The fermented black beans keep almost indefinitely stored airtight in the refrigerator. I also love a few black beans sprinkled over steamed fish or pork. Add a spoonful to stir-fried meat and vegetables. It is remarkably versatile and so delicious.