Chicken with Fermented Black Beans


In the post Growing up Foodie, I write about how my mother became extremely enamored and proficient with Chinese cuisine, thanks to meeting a Chinese cook, author, and shop owner in Seattle, Washington, namely Mrs. Esther Chin. This is her cookbook from the 60’s.

Quickly, with cooking lessons in exchange for sea cucumbers my mother collected scuba diving in the Puget Sound, my Mom learned and cooked and our house smelled like an Asian grocery store. There were cleavers and steamers and sieves and woks and chopsticks and porcelain spoons. She never sat with us to eat because she was always cooking everything at the last minute. You just heard a lot of clanging and banging, and endless French swear words.

And then lo and behold, a myriad of dishes would appear on the table – winter melon soup, dumplings, shrimp balls, steamed duck, five willow fish, salads, and an occasional stir fry. And, surprisingly, I loved chicken cooked with fermented bean sauce.

My mother recently gave me Mrs. Chin’s cookbook she had treasured for so many years, and there was the recipe. There are also recipes for bird’s nests and shark’s fins…

Chicken  with  Black  Bean  Sauce
Mrs. Chin

2 pounds trimmed chicken thighs
2 tablespoons cornstarch, or more if necessary
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fermented black beans
6 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 large green pepper, chopped
1/2 pound cauliflower florets
1 cup stock
1 tablespoon sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with the cornstarch. I use a sieve for the cornstarch, but forgot the photo.

Pound garlic and black beans together and cook with 1/4 cup of stock in a small pot until the beans are soft. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil and sauté the green pepper and cauliflower florets for a few minutes. Add 1/4 cup stock, cover, and simmer for about 2 minutes.
Remove and set aside.

Add another 3 tablespoons of oil and fry the chicken pieces for a couple of minutes. Add 1/4 cup stock and cook until all the pieces turn white. Place in a separate bowl and set aside.

Fry the black bean sauce with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil for one minute. Add the chicken and 1/4 cup stock. Cover and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add the vegetables, sherry, and salt.

Mix well.

Heat through and serve with rice.

I also like to serve extra fermented beans, because they’re so good!

53 thoughts on “Chicken with Fermented Black Beans

  1. One of the first things I learned in Chinese cooking (from a Chinese chef) was to coat the chicken with corn starch. It is magical the way it transforms the old bird. I have black bean sauce in my cupboard, so I see this happening very soon on our table. Thanks. I might need ti seek out that cookbook!

  2. Now, that’s an old cookbook. Amazing how some old recipes remain popular. I see you used the black bean sauce versus fermented beans. Is that what you recommend? I have both in my pantry. I am a big fan of Asian cuisine so I know I would love this!

    • On Amazon, where I bought this, it said “fermented,” and other products did as well. So I went by that and assumed in Chinese it said “fermented black bean sauce.” But the flavor was the same as what I remember.

      • This isn’t a mistake. They are black beans, but the recipe turns them into a sauce. When I served the chicken, I also served more black beans, that weren’t a sauce.

  3. Looks delish! I bought fermented black beans a while ago for a recipe and have a ton left. Perfect. So cool your mom traded sea cucumbers for Chinese cooking lessons. And even more cool that she was scuba diver. :-) ~Valentina

      • Hi Mimi. Tonight I made this recipe for the black bean sauce. My fermented black beans have just been waiting to be used and this sauce was perfect. I really wanted to make it and had everything but chicken and didn’t want to go to the store (funny, I know that’s the “meat” of it). So . . . I made a mushroom dish with it and served it over rice. EVERYONE loved it. Thank you! :-) ~Valentina
        P.S. I had a bit of the sauce leftover so I’m marinating tofu in it for my vegetarian son.

      • Hahahahaha! I totally understand that! Mushrooms with black beans sound wonderful! It’s pretty amazing stuff!

  4. this sounds excellent! and i am stunned that your mum went scuba diving!s how impressive. and with the chinese cooking too. what a great woman she must have been/is.

    • She’s still kicking it at 93! She got upset when I told her I was going to jump out of a plane, so I had to remind her about her scuba diving experiences….

  5. I have a jar of fermented black bean sauce. I’ve had it for years. It never seems to get used up. I throw a tablespoon in most things I make when I want an Asian flair. I’m glad to have a proper recipe however and I plan to try this. GREG

    • You’ll love this! If I liked it as a kid, back when I didn’t like too too much, anyone would love this dish! (I think.)

  6. Love this quick and easy stir fry. I know you probably did not appreciate mom’s Chinese cooking at the time growing up but just think of all the delicious recipes you have enjoyed that you would never had the chance to experience. Fermented black beans is one of our favorite condiments. It adds a whole other flavor profile to any dish. Be sure to try it on steamed black cod fish- so good!

    • Goodness. I just had halibut yesterday and I should have done that! No, I didn’t appreciate much that my mother cooked, because I wanted to eat Cocoa Puffs and be like american children! But my experience taught me a lot about good food and good ingredients.

  7. Your mother sounds like a real character, Mimi! The scuba diving in the Puget Sound alone probably generated all kinds of stories. And the recipe for bird’s nest? Uh…what? Haha. I’m not familiar with fermented black beans, but I do love black beans. I’d love to this try one!

    • It’s a very unique flavor, but a really good one! Yes, she was very adventurous, especially as a cook! Lots of interesting stories that are food-related, as well as scuba diving related!

  8. I love fermented black beans! This looks terrific — such a nice stir fry. Love hearing about your mom — such an unusual person. Anyway, good stuff — thanks. And Happy New Year!

  9. Black bean sauce is the BEST. I would eat pretty much anything covered in that stuff. Funky, fermented flavors are totally my jam, so I almost always have a bottle of it. Now I’m hungry all over again just thinking about this recipe!

  10. I’m going to the Asian market tomorrow to search for fermented black beans! I can’t believe that so many of your readers have a jar onhand, and I’ve never even heard of them. I’m also so curious to see what the cornstarch does. Thanks for the recipe!

    • The cornstarch doesn’t really do that much – it’s not like flour or breadcrumbs but it’s still a coating and probably keeps the chicken moist. I was actually surprised at how many people own fermented bean sauce!

  11. Mimi, as a former North westerner myself, I’m very familiar with suiting up in a dry suit and diving for sea cucumbers. We used to trade them to our local Japanese restaurant in Edmonds, WA for meals. So, I’m visualizing your mom, in what I’m thinking was the 70s diving for sea cukes. It gives me a big smile as it brings back wonderful memories. But, frankly I didn’t care for the texture of the sea cucumber. On the other hand I love fermented black beans and you’ll always find them as well as chili bean paste (for making Sichuan Mapo Tofu) in our fridge or pantry. Great recipe and one I must try.

    • Oh fascinating! We used to go to Edmonds a lot! I was the only one who didn’t scuba dive in my family. Too chicken. But I did go skydiving, which freaked my mother out. So I had to remind her of the scuba diving adventures! There was one with a walrus, if I’m not mistaken. And she hade a speargun for catching ling cod, which were bigger than she was!!!

  12. This is such an interesting dish. I have never tasted fermented black beans let alone cooked with them. I love anything in the Asian Cuisine though and I will venture beyond what I know and try this soon. Thanks so much for sharing!

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