On the shelves of any oriental store you
will see so many bean sauces it will make your head spin! Made from
fermented soy beans, they vary in color from yellow to brown to black.
Not pour-able like tomato ketchup, they are more like thick pastes and
must be spooned from the jar, but since they are labeled 'bean sauce',
let's continue to refer to them thus. In moderate amounts they add depth
and flavor to many dishes.
There are hot bean sauces, sweet bean
sauces, oily bean sauces, sauces with whole beans and sauces which are
smoothly ground. The most basic among Chinese bean sauces are mor sze
jeung, a smooth bean sauce, and min sze jeung, which contains mashed and
whole fermented soy beans. Whenever 'bean sauce' is called for in a
recipe from China, Singapore or Malaysia, this is the one to use
(otherwise it would specify smooth bean sauce or ground bean sauce). If
all you have on the shelf is smooth bean sauce, give it a bit of texture
by mixing in an equal quantity of rinsed, salted black beans, lightly
mashed with a fork.
Probably the most widely known of the sauces
is hoi sin jeung, very useful with its balance of sweetness, saltiness,
garlic and five-spice powder. Also well known is tim mein jeung, a sweet
and salty ground bean sauce.
Among the hot bean sauces are chili bean
sauce (to be used with discretion) and soy chili sauce. All these sauces
should keep almost indefinitely even without refrigeration, but be
particular to use only a clean, dry spoon. Bean sauces, in particular
those spiked with chili, are essential in Hunan and Szechwan cuisine,
and are the favored seasoning for meat dishes in northern China.
In the Korean kitchen, there is the
indispensable dhwen jang (thick bean sauce) and a taste variation on
smooth bean paste with a healthy dose of chili, called gochu jang.
Chinese smooth bean paste or Japanese aka miso are acceptable