Loving The Humble Bean Paste

For the longest time, I had a jar of yellow bean paste at the back of my refrigerator. I forgot all about it because I hardly use it in my cooking. If I am not cooking curries, I am probably cooking Western dishes.

I threw out the jar, without even opening it, because it’s gone so long past its expiry date I dare not find out what was growing in there.

And just like that, I have a million and one … okay, maybe five…recipes using yellow bean paste that I needed to cook that week. So, I kinda rushed to the provision shop and bought a jar. Most cooks like a particular brand, and my aunt used to only buy her bean paste from a neighbour who makes them. But I have no preferences, and just bought one with the longest shelf life left.

Yellow bean paste is made from salted and fermented yellow soybeans. The beans are blended with salt, sweet glutinous rice wine and brown sugar, and fermented for about three months.

They are salty and a little sweet too…. the intensity of both flavours is what differentiates one brand from another.

There are many variations of yellow bean paste, especially in Taiwan where it’s an important ingredient in their cooking. The best dishes with bean paste that I had was at the Taiwanese restaurant New Formosa in SS2, Petaling Jaya (46, Jalan SS2/24, 47300 Petaling Jaya. Tel: 03-7875 1894, 03-7875 7478.) They dish out the best fish cooked in bean paste sauce laced with lethal bird’s eye chilli (as well as the most delicious butter unagi and my favourit-est caramelised yam).

It was after New Formosa that I had new found respect for the humble yellow bean paste sauce. I love the aroma imparted from sauteing yellow bean paste, and it usually goes really well with ginger and garlic.

But I love yellow bean paste most when its flavours are lifted by the fiery heat of bird’s eye chilli.

One of my favourite dishes with yellow bean paste is braised pork ribs.

I first had it a long time ago at my husband’s friend’s then girlfriend’s dinner party. I love the dish, but unfortunately didn’t hit it off with the cook. I think I tried to ask for the recipe, but she wasn’t forthcoming and I didn’t persist.

When I saw the recipe for Braised Spare Ribs In Brown Sauce in Deh-Ta Hsiung’s The Chinese Kitchen, I knew I had to try it. I just added bird’s eye chilli, instead of the red chilli stipulated in his recipe. If you can take the heat, use bird’s eye chilli.

My recipe is simpler than Deh-Ta Hsiung’s recipe, and much much more fiery.

ribs n taucu



(Serves 4)

2 tablespoon of cooking oil

2 inch young ginger, julienned

2 cloves of garlic chopped finely

2 tablespoons of yellow bean paste

4-5 bird’s eye chilli, according to how hot you want the dish

600g pork spare ribs

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar, or to taste

Heat cooking oil, and saute the garlic and ginger until fragrant.

Then, add the yellow bean paste and saute until fragrant.

Add bird’s eye chilli. (I slice it coarsely because I want to avoid burning my lips from biting into them).

Increase the heat, and add the spare ribs. Stir until they are evenly mixed with the rest of the ingredients.

Add the water, and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat and let the ribs simmer slowly covered for between 20-30 minutes, or until the ribs are soft.

Stir occasionally, and season with sugar when it’s done.


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