Clams in Black Bean Sauce – Chi Zhi Chao Xian
Fen loves clams. In fact we’ve just come back from a holiday to Italy where she practically ordered clams or mussels with every plate of spaghetti. Couple that with her origins from the coastal province of Fujian, and you can see that clams in black bean sauce was destined to be a winner.
This recipe is actually from Hong Kong, and like much Cantonese cooking the secret is in the simplicity of preparation and freshness of the seafood. Both mussels and clams are fine to use (I’ve actually used mussels from our local Chinese supermarket here), but do make sure you get them from a good seafood counter, or better yet a vender with live tanks.
The coup de grâce of this dish is of course the black bean sauce, which tastes a million times better when homemade rather than from a bottle, and I’m perfectly happy to mop it up with a spoon even after the clams are gone. It’s the potato flour that is responsible for getting the black bean sauce nice and thick, so for maximum effect be sure to pour it in two or three stages, stirring continuously. The end result should be a rich, gloppy sauce that clings to the shells and makes everything fragrant and delicious.
This dish is inevitably going to get messy, so if you’re not too dexterous with chopsticks I’d encourage you to dive in with your fingers. Fen’s an expert at opening shells (both for seafood and nuts), and automatically goes into monkey-mode when she eats them by popping them in her mouth and prising them open with her tongue and teeth, while I scrabble about with greasy fingers.
For me the dish recalls a particularly memorable night in the coastal town of Qingdao with Fen’s friends and family, where the eight of us managed to get through swathes of crabs, cockles and clams, leaving behind (literally) buckets of emptied shells and crushed claws. Hopefully a bucket won’t be necessary in your case, but be sure to have a spare bowl lying round.
- 1kg clams or mussels
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
- 2½ tbsp fermented black beans
- 2 tsp ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
- 1½ red chillies cut into diagonal slices
- 3 tbsp green peppers, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp potato flour mixed with 2 tbsp cold water
- 2 tbsp spring onions, finely sliced
- Pour 500ml water into a large lidded saucepan and bring to boil. Add the clams, cover, and heat for 3-4 minutes until the clam shells have opened, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan and set aside, keeping the cooking water
- Heat a wok and add the oil, followed by the ginger, garlic, fermented black beans, chillies and green peppers, and stir-fry until fragrant
- Pour in 150ml of the clams' cooking water and bring to the boil. Season with Shaoxing wine, soy sauces and salt
- Stir the potato flour mixture and add to to the work in two or three stages, stirring slowly until the liquid has thickened. Take off the heat and stir in the clams and spring onions and mix together. Tip onto a plate and serve
Based on a recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking