Most chilli-bean-garlic pastes/ sauces you can buy have way too much msg in them – totally unnecessary. I’ve got quite a laissez-faire attitude to a little bit of msg as a ‘umami’ flavour in pre bought food – but like all flavour/mood enhancers, less is undoubtedly more. 🙂
Too much msg makes my tongue feel burnt. Yuck.
This sauce is definitely a condiment, rather than something you use as a foundation in cooking, but I use it all the time – in fact, on toast, it’s kind of become my replacement for marmite/vegemite, so I tend to make it on a 1:1:1 ratio of chilli, black bean and garlic – however, Lottie and Special K, the two mates who I swap homemade stuff with most often, are both diehard chilliheads, so I make a 2:1:1 version for them – you can make it as hot as you like, but the method and the type of pan you use are pretty much set in stone.
Ingredients – makes 2 small jars – about 500 ml.
1-2 generous handfuls of regular dried chillies (red, about 5-6 cm long and 0.75-1 cm wide)
1 large or 2 small whole bulbs of garlic
1 handful fermented black soya beans
300 ml cooking oil – I use sunflower oil, but you could use canola or peanut – the main thing is it should be flavourless and be able to withstand high heat. Use 50-100 ml more oil if you’re using 2 or more handfuls of chilli.
I am hoping that if you’re making Chinese style condiments, you already own a wok, but you could also use a karahi or something similar – the main thing is, the pan should be considerably bigger than the volume of ingredients, as they fizzle and bubble up when you add them to the oil – and there should be a relatively large surface area in relation to the amount of oil you’re using, to allow moisture to escape, otherwise the flavour will be too broiled/boiled.
Break off any stalks on the chillies and twizzle between your fingers to remove most of the seeds – you won’t get rid of all of them, but as they don’t plump up when you soak the chillies in hot water, leaving them all in will make your sauce too crunchy – like deep fried granola, and get stuck between your teeth. If you want a hotter sauce, just use more chillies. CAUTION, if you think you might rub your eyes/nose/tender parts in the near future, you might want to wear rubber gloves for this bit.
Place chillies in a bowl and cover with boiling water – set aside for 30 minutes, then drain.
Peel all the garlic.
Rinse black beans – you can soak them in hot water to plump them up a little bit, but for no longer than a couple of minutes – I don’t bother. When drained, mash lightly to break them up a little.
If you haven’t got a machine, chop the chillies and the garlic quite finely – keeping them separate. Even if you’re going to blitz them, it is worth roughly chopping them before adding them to the machine, so that they end up being evenly finely minced not part puréed with some big chunks. Blitz in short bursts.
When you’ve got these 3 ingredients lined up in separate bowls, put your clean, dry pan on quite a high heat, until you see a heat haze coming off it, then turn heat down slightly and add oil – heat until you see a heat haze coming off the pan and the oil starts to gently shimmer – you have to pay attention because you don’t want it to get to a smoking point – turn off the heat immediately, and if you’re cooking on electric, remove from the hot ring. Straight away, add the chillies – they will fizzle up and spit a bit, so be careful. The oil will turn orange, and when it begins to calm down, but is still bubbling, add the garlic. Stir a couple of times and add the beans.
The addition of each cold ingredient brings down the heat of the oil, so this needs to be done in quite quick succession. Leave to cool, then bottle.
As long as the paste has a good layer (1 cm) of oil covering it, it doesn’t need refrigerating and will easily keep for 2-3months. If you find you have an excess of oil, you can scoop this off and keep it as plain chilli oil for cooking/dressings.
Black beans are available in small bags or cardboard tubs in Chinese stores – they’re dead cheap and last indefinitely. Once you’ve opened them, store in a screw top jar as they smell quite strong. One of the best brands is Pearl River preserved black beans with ginger, which seems to be available all over the world.