Chinese black bean sauce is a traditional condiment found on the tables of nearly every Chinese restaurant across the globe. The main ingredient, Dou chi, is an invaluable ingredient in Chinese culinary culture that has been used since the Han Dynasty. The American alternative to Dou chi is the black turtle bean, or more commonly known simply as the black bean. Black bean sauce is used in a variety of dishes, from rice and stir fries to steamed pork and fried fish.
Dou chi is the traditional main ingredient in Chinese black bean sauce, though ironically it does not contain black beans. The "black" beans are actually fermented soya beans that originated in Sichuan province of China. The bean has since become a key ingredient in Sichuan cooking, as well as dishes across China, Japan, Korea and Chinatowns across the world. It is a key ingredient in many stir fry, fish and beef dishes, and is available either as jarred whole beans or as a paste. The paste is a mixture of Dou chi, garlic and soy sauce. In most Chinese black bean sauces, the paste is used rather than the whole bean.
Black Beans (Turtle Beans)
The main ingredient in many homemade black bean sauces is, by no surprise, black beans. The traditional Chinese black bean sauce, however, does not contain black beans; the homemade American version is merely a recreation. Most quick black bean sauces will contain one can of drained black beans or the equivalent of 425gr. of freshly cooked black beans. The beans adds the substance and colour to the sauce, while the spices attempt to mimic more closely the connection to the Chinese recipe.
The usual spices in a black bean sauce unanimously include salt, garlic (already in the paste) and pepper. In Chinese black bean sauce, red pepper flakes or chilli oil are usually used to add a heated spice, but milder flavours such as orange peel and ginger root can be added to compliment the main flavours of the dish the sauce accompanies. Black bean paste is considered a condiment in China, therefore the additions to black bean sauce are generally minimal as there is already a very pronounced taste, though all recipes vary slightly.
Sauce is viscous by definition, and therefore any black bean sauce, whether Chinese or black turtle bean, must contain an added liquid. The Chinese version usually contains a combination of sesame oil, rice vinegar and possibly additional soy sauce and water. Black (turtle) bean sauce usually either contains soy sauce (if mimicking the Chinese version) or simply water.