Monday, 27 June 2011

The Source of Chilli Bean Sauce

A soy sauce is a soy sauce; an oyster sauce is an oyster sauce; a chilli sauce is a chilli sauce; right? Wrong.

No two sauces are the same; yet few cookbooks or recipes ever mention that. And, to top it off: often the one factor that makes a good dish great is…the sauce!

Sauces come in many grades and brands -- and thus quality. But this fact is often neglected, even by otherwise good cooks. I recall an incident in my teens: I once attempted a recipe of my grandma’s umpteen times over, because I couldn’t get the quality right. Frustrated, I called Grandma and painstakingly went over each step and ingredient with her, to the point she almost lost her cool with me. Then I suddenly realized.

It was the soy sauce; the one I had used tasted different from the one I remembered when Grandma cooked. When I re-cooked the soy sauce and tweaked it as close as possible to the taste I remembered, everything fell into place. But that episode left me with a phobia.

I was terrified that I could never again duplicate the flavors I grew up with, and have come to love. I began in my teens to collect recipes of sauces.

I have since learned to make my own oyster sauce, chilli sauce, XO sauce, and others. Vinegar and soy sauces were beyond my means to make, so I have relied on a few cottage manufacturers for my supply all these years. If I’m overseas, I would get whatever brand was available, then re-cook the sauce to my needs.
On my recent trip to Shanghai, I attended a cooking lesson conducted by The Langham Xintiandi, Shanghai. As the recipes taught were for beginners, I found them, initially, simple and familiar. Until the chilli sauce that accompanied one of the dishes caught my eye.

Tony Su (pictured), the Executive Chef for Chinese Cuisine, later disclosed to me that the sauce was an in-house recipe, which he, nonetheless, shared with me. Tony is Shanghainese and trained in both Cantonese and Shanghainese cuisines. And now, thanks to this young and generous chef, this recipe has become my favorite sauce to make as a gift. I’m featuring a recipe of stingray cooked with this chilli sauce, but I’ve discovered that it also makes a great base sauce for meat dishes. Yum!

Sichuan Chilli Bean Sauce

Oil                                       3 tbsp
Shallots                              100 g, minced
Sugar                                  150 g
Garlic                                  100 g, minced
Chilli powder                     10 g
Dried shrimps                    50 g, minced
Chicken powder                10 g, optional
Sichuan bean paste          3000 g

  1. Fry shallots over low heat and add sugar just before the shallots caramelize. Add garlic, chilli and dried shrimps and fry for another 5 minutes.
  2. Add Sichuan bean paste and fry until fragrant.
  3. Cool and store in a bottle.

 Fried Stingray with Sichuan Chilli Bean Sauce

Oil                                        ½ tbsp
Onion                                  50 g, diced
Green pepper                   80 g, diced
Red chilli                             20 g, diced
Stingray                              200 g, cut into chunks
Sugar                                    1 tsp
Sichuan bean paste         2 tbsp

  1. Saute onion, green pepper, and red chilli until slightly brown. Remove them from the wok and drain. Saute stingray until slightly cooked, remove from the wok and drain.
  2. Fry Sichuan paste for 2 minutes over high heat. This is to “wake up” the sauce. Add a tbsp of water to the paste if it begins to burn.
  3. Add stingray and sugar, quick-fry until the fish is totally cooked.

Note: Sichuan bean paste or四川郫豆瓣 is available at Yue Hwa Department Store, Chinatown, Singapore or some Chinese grocery shops.

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