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Bean Sauces

Bean Sauces

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 substitutes.

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