Last night I dreamt again of Chicken in a Black Bean Sauce. Nothing special, just the ordinary, slighty tacky dish you get delivered from a Chinese takeaway, the sort of thing you might eat with chopsticks in front of the television, straight from the tin-foil carton. Strips of chicken, bound in a starchy, slightly piquant, peppery black sauce, stir fried with crunchy green peppers. Always crunchy green peppers.
As with Indian food in this country, I expect that Chicken in a Black Bean Sauce is about as authentic as a pizza cooked with pineapple; not of course that I am recommending you add pineapple to your pizza; that would be a heresy. But just sometimes, there's something comforting about re-creating simple, bastardised dishes: I think they've become modern classics in their own right.
Researching the recipe, I found all sorts of versions on the net. Some were spicier than others; one even used grated orange and ginger. I've come up with a simple, relatively authentic recipe you can easily make at home, although I admit that I have no idea if this is exactly how your local Chinese take-away makes it. Please feel free to add your own twists. You'll see that I have deliberately avoided using that pre-made black bean sauce you can buy in a tin. You can buy packets of fermented black beans (soy beans which have been dried and fermented in salt and spices) and from Chinese grocery shops. We're lucky enough to live relatively close to London's China Town. If you don't, I think you can buy these on the net. Incidentally, they're a different thing from the black beans used in Mexican or Caribbean cooking, which you can buy tinned from supermarkets. Here's how you make Chicken in a Black Bean Sauce:
First, you will need to make up your own black bean sauce mixture. In a bowl, combine the following ingredients: two heaped tablespoons of Chinese fermented black beans (rinsed and mashed), two cloves of minced garlic, one tablespoon of dark soy sauce, one teaspoon of Chinese oyster sauce (from the bottle), one teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons of cornstarch, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and a dash of rice wine or sherry. Put to one side.
Heat up your wok over a medium heat, and add a dash of toasted sesame oil. Warm for about thirty seconds. Add a teaspoon or so of minced garlic and your home-made black bean sauce. Cook, stirring for thirty seconds.
When the chicken's almost cooked, add diced onion, sliced spring onions, green pepper (cut up into chunks), a further generous dash of soy sauce (this will help to turn the sauce a darker colour) and lots of fresh black pepper. Cook quickly (so that the vegetables are still crunchy) and serve. Steamed rice would be just the ticket.