Mussels with Black Bean Sauce: Recipe of the Week #7

Made with my favorite ingredient for punchy, umami flavor.

The star of this show isn’t the mussels, despite them being one of my top ten desert island ingredients.

Mussels with Black Bean Sauce: Recipe of the Week #7

The diva in this bowl of awesome is the Chinese fermented black bean. And while you can buy some decent prepared black bean sauces, making it yourself is easy, fresher, tastier and more wholesome. In fact, you are just building the ingredients in the wok as you go, and this is a regular weeknight dinner for me. I hope it will be for you as well.

Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk is a community-supported publication. If you like this exclusive content, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

So… what are fermented black beans?

Fermented black beans are also known as douchi, fermented black soybeans, Chinese fermented black beans, and salted black beans. They go by a lot of names and they are an insanely beloved seasoning and ingredient.

It doesn’t matter what you call them, all fermented black beans are made by salting and fermenting black soybeans. They turn dry, chewy, bitter-sweet and a little salty. They are used to make black bean paste and black bean sauce. They have nothing in common with black beans, the ones popular in Central and South America and now also in North America as well. We are talking about fermented black soy beans!

These beans are strong in flavor, and some folks use them straight out of the bag/jar. I typically rinse them briefly, or soak them in rice wine for a few minutes before using whole in a dish. I strongly recommend doing this for recipes where you are chopping or mincing them. If you use them in a short rib braise and cook them for several hours, they are mellower in flavor. If you use them in my mussels recipe below, they will be sharper, cheesier and saltier, which is why I rinse them for this dish.

Regardless, they are my favorite umami bomb for even some of my most everyday types of cooking. A teaspoon of the beans in a French white wine chicken braise adds some crazy fun flavor. Play around with them.

You can find fermented black beans at an Asian grocery store, most grocery stores in major metropolitan areas, or online.

Mussels with Black Bean Sauce: Recipe of the Week #7
Ingredients, ready to go.

This recipe will work for clams, crab, lobster, fish, chicken and pork as well. I think once you cook with these beans you will be adding them to all sorts of dishes.

Mussels with Black Bean Sauce

Serves 2


3 tablespoons fermented (salted) Chinese black beans

3 tablespoons peanut oil

3 dried hot chile peppers (whole)

1 tablespoons sliced ginger

1 sliced garlic clove

2 tablespoons toban djan (chile garlic bean paste)

2 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)

1 bunch scallions chopped in 1-inch lengths

½ cup julienne carrot, I use a peeler to make long thin strips

2 pounds cleaned large, plump, full black mussels

½ cup rice wine (sake or Chinese rice wine is fine)

2 tablespoons corn starch mixed with ½ cup chicken broth


Preheat a large wok fitted with a domed lid over high heat.

Rinse the beans for 30 seconds in warm water. Set aside.

Add the oil and swirl in the wok.

Add the dried chilies, ginger, garlic… swirl and add the bean paste, black beans, sugar, scallions and carrot, and toss.

Add the mussels and toss.

Add the rice wine and bring to a boil, tossing.

Add the corn starch/chicken broth mixture, cover and cook, tossing once or twice for 3 minutes.

Remove lid. The mussels should be cooked and open.

Arrange mussels in two bowls, taste and adjust seasoning in sauce. Note: some people love to add a drizzle of Chinese black vinegar. If you do, use a good one.

Pour sauce over the mussels and serve with plenty of rice to soak up all the amazing sauce.

Have you ever cooked with fermented black beans? What’s your favorite way to use them? Share in the comments!

Thanks for reading Spilled Milk.

If you enjoyed this content, please click the ‘heart’ at the bottom. Share this with a friend, on your social media, etc., etc., etc., you know the drill. Click the share button to make it happen.


Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk
Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk
Andrew Zimmern