Stir Fried Fish with Black Bean
Black bean sauce is one of those things you can buy in a jar pretty easily in Chinatown. But I was dead set on making it from scratch as my Cantonese friends do, so I bought myself a box of dried fermented black beans (added benefit is it's gluten free when made from scratch, so great for celiacs). Except every time I tried to use the dried beans, my food came out nothing like the dishes I loved at my favorite restaurant, Oriental Garden. They were often too salty or just plain flat. I tried so many recipes and none of them had the mild nuanced flavors I love in a black bean sauce.
One day I was venting to my friend and she suggested rehydrating the beans. And it was a game changer. Black beans are cured with salt so recipes often recommend rinsing. But it was never enough. By rehydrating the beans, you get to fully extract the flavors without over salting your food.
This recipe can really be done with any proteins and vegetables, so I decided to use what I had available: basa fish, bok choy, orange peppers, and wood ear mushrooms (rehydrated in warm water).
While I rehydrated the black beans, I prepped my other ingredients. I julienned the rehydrated wood ear mushrooms and the orange pepper (for tips on cutting peppers, click here). Bok choy carries a lot of dirt so I usually put it through the salad spinner a few times. The best way to clean is to cut the bok choy in half lengthwise and submerge in water. Then, agitate the water with your hands and let the dirt fall to the bottom (this works for all vegetables and herbs). Spin it dry and repeat until the bok choy is clean. If it's extra dirty, spin with water in the sink (it does splash).
Once the vegetables are prepped, strain the black beans and mince together with garlic and ginger. Cut the fish into large bite size pieces and season with salt and pepper and coat with corn starch. Once the ingredients are all prepped, turn on the stove and heat up the wok (can substitute with a pan but the high sides and extra cooking surface definitely helps).
The trick to not getting your fish stuck on the pan is to sufficiently heat up your wok. My chef at school used to often say "hot pan, cool oil, food don't stick." He would even bet our tuition on it. So none of us ever questioned him. And it's true. If your food is sticking, your pan was probably not properly heated or it's dry. Once the wok is nice and hot, pour canola oil and coat the entire wok by moving the oil around. Then add your aromatics until fragrant and add the fish to sear then stir-fry. Add vegetables in with a three fingered pinch of salt and stir-fry for another minute. Add chicken broth and sake and reduce by half. Enjoy!
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS: As usual, both the fermented black beans and the wood ear mushrooms are cheapest in Asian groceries. But if that's not an option, Amazon again comes to our help. The 1 lb box of black beans will last you a very long time. I just transferred them to an airtight bag after the first use. I usually buy the wood ear mushrooms bulk so unfortunately it's not available online, but this one had the best reviews. Note that when you rehydrate wood ear mushrooms, they expand about 10x in volume.