Seabass w/ Black Bean Sauce

Sauce with a side of meat, not the other way around.  I think this is how I would most often order my food given the option.  This is not to diminish my appreciation for all types of meat–I love them all– but I’m speaking from years of observing my own eating habits.  My meat-eating-but-professes-he-could-easily-turn-vegetarian husband likes to point out to me occasionally that I’m a big (red) meat eater despite the fact that typical fare at home consists of vegetables, salads and meatless pasta/rice dishes.  It’s okay.  He’s seeing the forest and not the trees.

When I finally get a craving for a meaty stew, he sees the full, 5-quart pot on the stove.  Though we’re only two in the house, I never quite learned how to scale down the dishes my mother prepared when she cooked for five.  What my husband rarely notices is that I’m happy to eat a small piece of chicken, pork or the rarely-purchased beef.  What I hungrily devour is all the sauce that the meat has simmered in and has flavored so generously.  Served atop a mountain of steaming rice, I’m a happy camper.


One of the sauces that I’ve always enjoyed but have never tried at home is black bean sauce.  A fixture on Chinese restaurant menus, black bean sauce is made with fermented black beans.  A little goes a long way but what you get is a punched up dish with salty, pungent and bold flavors.  Clams with Black Bean sauce is one of my mother’s menu favorites.  Unfortunately, what you may get from your local Chinese restaurant covers the quality spectrum.  Sadly, my husband and I haven’t properly enjoyed Chinese food for years since there simply isn’t a worthy one to visit near our home.  I’m not a connoisseur of the cuisine but I do know that the main ingredients are rarely sugar and corn starch.

This dish was my first attempt and I was quite happy with the results.  Instead of using clams or spare ribs (common protein components for this dish), I had a large piece of broiled seabass from the previous evening’s dinner.  I couldn’t let that go to waste and it turned out to be a wonderful addition to the vegetables and the sauce.  Normally, black bean sauce is infused with the flavors of clams or spare ribs (more complexity) but since I added a pre-cooked protein to the mix, my version was slightly lighter, fresher tasting.  I like both version since it’s the black bean flavor that I’m after.  I also used only half of the 1 cup of sauce that was suggested in the recipe below but it was still enough to fully flavor my bok choy, green peppers and seabass.

It’s a pity that you can’t actually see much of the sauce in my pictures.  I had such low expectations about being able to share this experiment with you that I did not plan on taking pictures at all.  After my first taste however, I hurriedly set my bowl on my dining table and snapped a couple of shots. These were the only two that made the cut.  I wish you could taste the garlic and ginger that mingled with the salty black beans.  I’ll be making this again and again.

(Update: I couldn’t help it but I shot the sauce again with just steamed bok choy this time.)

Seabass with Black Bean Sauce

Note: Recipe for sauce was adapted from Food & Wine here but I consulted these other recipes to achieve as authentic a dish as possible.  The important components were present in the Food & Wine recipe: Shaoxing rice wine, fresh ginger, fresh scallions and soy sauce.  The only ingredient it used that I did not see in the others was oyster sauce which I would guess was a substitution for thick soy sauce (kecap manis).  While I had both, I opted to use this vegetarian oyster sauce since it’s been sitting on my shelf a bit longer. If you have a highly recommended recipe, please do share!

For the black bean sauce:

  • 1 cup stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I used a bit less)

For the other ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fremented black beans, rinsed and drained (I would even use an extra teaspoon next time)
  • 10-12 baby bok choy
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced (I used a bit more)
  • Oil for sautéing
  • 1 piece seabass (mine was drizzled w/ kecap manis and broiled)

Whisk all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

I prepped my bok choy by cutting cross-wise into thirds and rinsed.  I didn’t let them drain completely and cooked them in their own steam very briefly (until they turned bright green), about 1-2 minutes, in a sauté pan.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Dry the pan and use for the sauce.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan.  Add the garlic, scallion, ginger and black beans and stir-fry over high heat until fragrant.  This will take no longer than a minute.  Add the bell pepper and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  (If you choose not to pre-cook your bok choy, you can add them at this point and cook them until they’re wilted.) I added the sauce first (Half of the sauce was sufficient here but I wouldn’t hesitate to use the entire cup next time).  Whisk the sauce mix briefly before adding to the pan.  The sauce will thicken quickly; stir a bit to cover the bell peppers. Lower the heat and add your bok choy if you pre-cooked like I did.  I added my cold piece of seabass at this point and covered the pan and cooked for a couple of minutes.

Serve with plain rice.



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  1. There is NEVER enough sauce in any dish for me:) And for not being prepared to take pictures, your photos are great!
    I have to give bok choy another chance (husband did not care for it at all), and I like this recipe. We have a great Asian supermarket near by, but it has a whole aisle with different bean sauces and pastes. How do I pick?

    • Another sauce lover! Lana, I’m never sure which to pick either. I think you can buy fermented black beans that come in a can. I took a chance and purchased one with the beans in a jar, in oil and I was happy with it. If I can find something similar online, I’ll update this post with a link. I think the main thing to avoid are the jars that say “black bean and garlic sauce”. You’d be purchasing a pre-made sauce (not good). You want to buy straight fermented black beans.

      Everyone else, please feel free to chime in and throw in your suggestions. Thanks!

  2. I love the fermented black beans! I try to keep a back up jar in the pantry. To the horror of my family, I eat them as a snack.
    What a wonderful light rice dish!

  3. Jean – this looks really tasty! Love the seabass and I am a sauce person. Not so much that it drowns, but enough to make the dish savory and tasty. Enjoy your weekend!! 🙂

  4. For me it’s a toss up between lots of sauce and lots of meat. One thing I can’t do without though is a large bowl of steamed rice! Beautifully cooked fish Jean.

  5. Love the punch and depth of fermented bean sauce – sauce with a bit of fish. I like your thinking.

  6. Hi Jean, I enjoyed catching up on your blog this am, unfortunately there hasn’t been much Internet access in the hotels on our vacation. You’ve been posting some wonderful dishes. I have never made black bean sauce and I’m loving your recipe with the bok Choy, one of my favorites. I also enjoyed your new year’s list and the mushroom risotto, a dish that I also make at home. I’m looking forward to seeing your future projects and wish you all the best for the new year:-)
    Ps. The scones look great, wish I had one for my breakfast right now!

    • Patty, I’m flattered that you’re all caught up on my posts during your vacation, wow! I hope you are having a wonderful time wherever you are. I can’t wait to here all about it. Safe travels! 🙂

  7. When I like a sauce, I want tons of it. I want to sop it up with rice or bread and lick my plate when no one is looking. Black bean sauce is one of those sauces–I most often order it with fish at my favorite Chinese restaurant, so you must know that this post has me salivating.

  8. Wow, great recipe, and beautifully written up!

  9. Man I am all about the sauce — I love spooning heapfuls of a hearty, soul-satisfying sauce and drown my rice with it. I love the complexity of fermented black beans and this recipe looks lovely. Beautiful photos Jean :)! Now you’ve got my tummy growling…

  10. Your OCD paid off. Great pics! : )

  11. You speak my language, my dear! Give me sauce and rice and I’m a happy camper! I love black bean sauce – what fresh flavors paired with the meaty fish!

  12. I’m actually the other way around – I’m not a huge sauce fan. I prefer things to have their own juice and flavour instead of smothering it in sauce, but black bean sauce is one I make an exception for! I’m glad you rephotographed, because that pak choy looks awesome with the sauce – bet it tasted it too!

    Jax x

  13. I’m going to find a place to buy fermented black beans and vegetarian oyster sauce near me so that I can try this sauce out!

  14. I am with you. I’d rather have a lot of sauce and some carb-y side (bread or rice or pasta) to eat it with and a little bit of meat for flavor. My husband, the carnivore, is just the opposite. Bring on the slabs of meat for him with no sauce at all. It makes dinner time interesting.

  15. Nice recipe. I love black bean sauce and bok choy! I grew up eating spicy food so when I make a black bean sauce dish I also throw in some chopped Thai chili to spice it up.

  16. If this is the dish you spent the chilly afternoon outside taking pictures at…I can say it was totally worth it! Now I’m drooling and “Black Bean Sauce” will be stuck in my head like the first silly song you hear in the morning. Let’s all leave the meat to the hubbies and eat this sauce!

  17. Oh your pictures are so pretty! I’m so glad you decided to share those shots of the bok choy. How stunning! My mom and I love to order sea bass with black bean sauce whenever we eat at Chinese restaurants. I loved to see how you recreated this dish at home. I never thought I would try…but after reading this, I may try to recreate one of our favorites. Thank you for sharing, my dear. I hope you have a good Monday. Let the week begin!

  18. I have some ready made black bean sauce and have been dying to use it. This might the recipe to try out!

  19. That, my dear, sounds utterly delicious! I love baby bok choy and am always looking for ways to use it! I simply can’t wait to try this.

  20. So happy to have discovered your blog. 🙂

    I always over-do it in December, so January is always a month-long detox. It’s also a month where after eating prime rib, roast turkeys and mashed potatoes, I gravitate towards my mom’s good-ol’ Vietnamese cooking. So now that you’ve offered up a black bean sauce, I’d be a fool NOT to have some. Especially since we have bok choy growing in the backyard…. 🙂 I’ll have to try this and report back.

    Happy week!


    • Well, that’s music to my ears! Thank you so much for stopping by and dropping a note. 🙂 I feel like I’ve been overdoing it since August so I’ve had to go back to a more waistline-friendly menu. If you do try this, please let me know how it turns out. Have a great week yourself!

  21. Sounds delicious. Love the bok choy shot.

  22. this dish sounds so lovely…and your pictures are just stunning. thank you for sharing this.

  23. I am a saucy gal myself 🙂 I love how you used seabass here – what a beautiful-looking dish. I am very enticed by your black bean sauce and can’t wait to see if I can find fermented black beans now!

  24. I forgot to ask – what kind of stock?

  25. Love it with the steamed bok choy. So simple, so perfect.
    I like making black bean sauce with steamed tofu. The tofu is a simple base to really let the black bean sauce shine.

  26. This made me smile reading about your liking for sauce on top of rice because there are some dishes I purposely make just for the sauce. Afritada and adobo comes to mind, mmmmm. 🙂
    I love the taste of black bean sauce and loved that you paired it with sea bass, one of the dishes my husband introduced to me.

  27. The black bean sauce looks great! I usually use oyster sauce or hoisin sauce for my bok choy, but will try to make your black bean sauce next time. Also great idea to use it with fish.

  28. Black bean sauce over bok choy and steamed rice… heaven! My mom makes fried fish and drizzles back bean sauce over it. Soooo good! Thank you for the inspiration for our next dinner, Jean! Happy New Year!!

  29. This dish looks so pretty and sounds like it tastes amazing. Beautiful presentation.

  30. must be delicious on bok choy… great photos!

  31. Anything with black bean sauce is my favorite thing to order at Chinese restaurants. I’ve never considered making it at home, other than using the pre-made stuff in the jar which isn’t any good at all. We eat sauteed baby bok choy all the time with simple fish or meat, but I would love to try your homemade sauce. I wonder where I can find fermented black beans. Perhaps at 99-Ranch (Chinese market)? … I always have a hard time finding things on their shelves but I’ll ask next time. 🙂

  32. Black bean sauce is a favorite of mine as well, but I too have never made it at home…love this!

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