Chicken with Fermented Black Beans

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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!

Chinese Cucumber Salad

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When my mother went through her Chinese cooking phase, which began when we moved Seattle, Washington, she was a whirling dervish in the kitchen. It was steamed buns, sea cucumbers, fried dumplings, whole baked fish, fermented bean sauce, dried shark’s fins, wintermelon soup, hot pot, and a lot of unidentifiable ingredients.

Our kitchen smelled like dried fish, just like the Chinese grocery store we would frequent at Pike Place market. If you want to read more about my mother’s crazy eccentric phase cooking for an uninspired husband and tweens with limited palates and even less patience, read Growing up Foodie.

I wasn’t much for vinegar or cucumbers when I was young. But I always remembered a Chinese cucumber salad my mother made. And I’m talking real cucumbers, not sea cucumbers.

When I married, I was gifted the set of Time Life Foods of the World cookbooks by my mother. At that point I had an improved palate. I made the cucumber out of this book, and have been making it ever since.

I love the salad because it’s a little salty, a little sweet, and it is rounded out with hot sauce and sesame oil. So many wonderful layers of flavor!

Because of my mother’s time working closely to her Chinese friend, Mrs. Chin, from whom she took Chinese cooking lessons, she learned lots of tricks, like this one.

Mrs. Chin always de-seeded cucumbers before using them by halving cucumbers lengthwise, and either cutting out or scooping out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller. To this day I do it without thinking. I have nothing against cucumber seeds, but they’re watery.

It looks like I’m destroying the poor cucumber in the photo where I’m scraping the seeds out with a spoon. Definitely use a melon baller.

Then I salt the cucumber slices on the inside, turn them over on paper towels, and let them drip dry for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time, just wipe the insides with a paper towel after you’ve removed the seeds.

Here’s the recipe from the Chinese cookbook.

Cucumber Salad with Spicy Dressing
Liang-pan-huang-kua
printable recipe below

2 medium cucumbers
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or a little less)
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (or a little more)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel the cucumbers and cut them lengthwise in two. With a melon baller, scrape the seeds out of each half, leaving hollow boats.

Cut the cucumbers crosswise into 1/4” thick slices.

In a small glass bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame seed oil, Tabasco, and salt, and mix well.

Add the cucumber. With a large spoon, toss to coat each slice thoroughly with the dressing.

Chill slightly before serving.

And yes, I love hot sauce!

As a cold side dish at a Chinese meal, it will serve 4 to 6.

I sprinkled some black sesame seeds over the cucumber salad just for fun, even though they look like seed ticks. They are not.

My friend had recently gifted me with fresh tuna steaks, so I served them with the cucumber salad. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.