Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Where else to start, but at the beginning?

One of the first 'proper' Chinese dishes I made, I remember watching Ken Hom make beef in black bean sauce on the television, and furiously scribbling a recipe into the back of some tragic early 90s microwave so I could have a go myself (at some point where I could afford to buy steak). Ah, halcyon days...

Twenty years later, I'm perfecting my own version, using authentic ingredients with a little less oil. So this is it, and the two most important things I'd say in order to get the best out of this dish are the beef, and a good non-stick wok. You want the beef pretty much half-frozen in order to be able to slice it into really thin, uniform slices, and then a good non-stick pan to be able to fry it quickly and evenly in a small amount of oil without it sticking.

This is still one of my favourite dishes, and I highly recommend sourcing some salted, fermented black beans (oriental shops sell them, they're cheap, and they last for aaages - the ones which have ginger in too are fine - just pick out the odd slice of dried ginger before using) to make your own sauce, they're delicious and very versatile.

Beef in black bean sauce

A really tasty, popular dish – versatile too, as you can substitute chicken, king prawns, tofu, mushrooms or whatever you fancy if you don't want to use beef (see note below for changing it around to suit you)!

Want to save money on expensive cuts of steak, and make this using your pressure cooker? My pressure cooker recipe is here.

Serves two,  329 calories per portion (365 if using Amoy stir fry black bean sauce). Easily doubled, and everyone else will love it too on a non-fast day.

Although I'd urge you to use the fermented black beans in their original state to make your own sauce, I’ve included the option for you to use a pre-made black bean sauce, if you’d rather. The trick to slicing your beef really finely is to have it pretty much partially frozen (so either half-defrosted from the freezer, or stick your steaks in for an hour or so until they’re really firm), use a really sharp knife, and cut against the grain for ultra-tender meat (oh, and don’t over-cook it!)…

Serve with your choice of rice or cauliflower rice, noodles, rice/beanthread noodles or shirataki/zero noodles depending on what kind of calorie consumption you're after.


  • 260g beef steak* (your choice – fillet/sirloin/rump/ribeye etc., trimmed of visible fat, check calorie count on packaging, I used fillet), very thinly sliced against the grain (easiest if you put in the freezer for an hour or so first, to firm it up) [403]
  • 1 teaspoon OR 12 sprays neutral oil (e.g. rice bran, sunflower, groundnut) [45]
  • ½ an onion, sliced (50g) [21]
  • 1 small/½ large green (bell) pepper, cut into bite-sized squares (80g) [21]
  • 100g mushrooms, quartered [16]
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, slivered or grated (your preference) [18]
  • 1 ½ inches ginger root, peeled and finely chopped or grated [5]
  • 1 large red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped [6]
  • 3 spring onions (scallions), chopped into 1 inch lengths on the diagonal, including green parts (washed of grit) [11]
  • 1 ½ tbsp fermented, salted black beans, roughly chopped (or black bean sauce - check for gluten if using, see ‘For the sauce’) [29]

For the marinade

  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free) [4]
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry for gluten free) [7]
  • 1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch) [12]

For the sauce

  • 1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch) [12]
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry for gluten free) [7]
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free) [8]
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce (usually contains gluten, but there are GF brands and you can get vegetarian versions, e.g. ASDA own brand) [21]
  • ½ tsp sugar (honey for clean eating) [8]
  • 50ml chicken stock [3]
  • Instead of using fermented, salted black beans, and the sauce ingredients, you can use a pre-made/bought black bean sauce (not as tasty, and nearly double the calories, but more convenient for some BUT they are likely to contain gluten, if you're cooking gluten free, e.g. Amoy ‘Stir Fry Sauce, Black Bean’, 120g, serves two – check the packaging for calories if using a different brand) [160]

1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade together, mix it thoroughly with the sliced beef (or chicken/pork, if using) and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Combine the sauce ingredients together also, in order (mixing the cornflour into a smooth paste with the wine and soy, before adding the other ingredients) and set aside. Make sure you have some recently boiled / hot water set aside, in case you need to thin the sauce at the end of cooking.

3. Heat a decent-sized wok (or deep frying pan), with a good non-stick coating/seasoning (necessary due to the small amount of oil used) over a high heat, and then add ½ tsp of the oil, to it, or 6 sprays (not the sesame oil).

4. Add the sliced meat (beef, pork or chicken, prawns if raw) to the hot wok, stir-frying it vigorously for 2-3 minutes, until the outsides are lightly browned and it’s almost cooked through, then remove with a slotted spoon to a separate dish (don’t worry if it’s beef and you can still see a little pink here and there – it’s going in again, and you don’t want to over-cook it).

5. Add the sliced onions, and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the peppers, mushrooms (and any other vegetables bar spring onions), garlic, ginger and chilli and stir fry for a further 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.

6. Add the black beans (if using) and spring onions and continue stir frying for another 1 to 2 minutes, then turn down the heat and add the sauce ingredients (or black bean sauce, if using) and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken (if your wok retains heat well, you may find that your sauce bubbles and thickens pretty instantly, and you’ll need to add some hot water from the kettle to thin it out a little).

7. Add your beef and toss in the sauce until heated through, and cooked to your liking (if you’re using chicken or pork, continue cooking until they are cooked all the way through – test the largest piece, add extra hot water if your sauce starts getting too thick as necessary. Heat prawns or tofu through, tossing gently if firm tofu so you don’t break it up), taste for seasoning (you could add extra light soy sauce if you feel it needs it, or thin/dilute with a little hot water if it’s on the salty side for you – these things will depend on the brands of soy sauce, stock etc. you use) serve immediately and enjoy!


*Like many dishes, you can choose which protein you’d rather use with this sauce, substitute chicken, pork, tofu, king prawns, mushrooms, vegetables if you’d rather, or even make the ‘sauce’ and serve with a grilled fish if you like – the choice is yours!  (N.B. If using cooked prawns, tofu or vegetables, don’t marinade, but add the marinade ingredients to the sauce ingredients, once both are combined just use as the sauce) If you want a suggestion of a variation on this theme, you could try my Pork with Straw Mushrooms, Bamboo, and Fermented Black Beans (also great with chicken). Some other substitution ideas could be:

·        Chicken breast, cut into strips – 110 calories per 100g
·        Pork fillet, cut into very thin slices – 150 calories per 100g
·        Cooked peeled (jumbo?) king prawns (or you could use raw and cook first) – (e.g. Sainsbury’s TTD frozen) 80 calories per 100g
·        Marinated tofu pieces (e.g. Cauldron) – 227 calories per 100g
·        Firm tofu, cubed – 76 calories per 100g
·        Bamboo shoots, cut into matchsticks (tinned, drained) – 13 calories per 100g
·        Shredded Chinese leaf/napa cabbage – 12 calories per 100g
·        Finely julienned, or very thinly sliced (e.g. on a mandolin) carrot – 26 calories per 100g
·        Sliced/quartered or button mushrooms – 16 calories per 100g
·        Babycorn/Baby sweetcorn, sliced/quartered lengthways – 24 calories per 100g
·        Aubergine, cubed – 20 calories per 100g
·        Asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths – 28 calories per 100g
·        Finely julienned or sliced courgette – 18 calories per 100g
·        Peas/petit pois (defrosted) – 68 calories per 100g


  1. Sounds great. Very much looking forward to making this.

    1. PS it's me Lucy Black from facebook :)

    2. Awesome - and you have the (dubious) honour of being the first to comment! :D

  2. Just like our local Chinese shop only better. Thanks. This will be a regular meal on rotation.


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