I love Chinese black bean sauce. I love mussels. And the first time I heard about this combination (thank you, Hanne Blank!), I knew it would be brilliant. The salty, pungent earthiness of the fermented black beans and the heat of the chile against the plump, slick, sweet, briny mussels – this was something I had to try.
And I was not disappointed. Arne and I devoured this with groans of pleasure that would have been kind of embarrassing if there’d been anyone else around to hear.
A pound of mussels per person may sound like a lot – and you can get away with a bit less, maybe 3/4 of a pound – but mussels have a lot of waste. But trust me, you will want to eat every one of these.
When you buy your mussels, make sure the person serving you at the fish counter is looking them over closely and not selling you open ones. Store them in the refrigerator on ice until ready to use.
This recipe is an amalgam of several I found online. It serves two people for a meal (three if you’re dainty), and four as an appetizer. You’ll want something to sop up the sauce, so serve with white rice or, less authentic but delicious, slices of baguette. I also suggest something green, such as sauteed broccoli or Ma La Cucumber Salad, which is what we had.
Be sure to set your table with a large bowl to hold the discarded mussel shells!
Mussels with Chinese Black Bean Sauce
2 pounds mussels in the shell
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 bunch scallions
5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 to 2 tablespoons Sichuan chile bean paste or any Chinese chile sauce
3 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed and lightly mashed
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 cup sake or dry white wine or dry sherry
Clean your mussels. Rinse under cold water, removing any of the wiry “beard” you may find sticking out of some of the shells. Tap any open mussels sharply against the counter; discard any that do not close. You will probably lose several mussels this way.
Cut the green part of the scallions in 1-1/2 inch pieces, and cut the white part into 1/4-inch pieces.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large deep skillet with a lid. When it’s nice and hot, add the scallions. Stir for a minute, then add the garlic, ginger, chile paste, black beans, and oyster sauce. Saute for a minute or so, until the mixture smells fragrant. Add the mussels and stir to coat with the sauce.
Pour in the sake and quickly put the lid on the pot. Let cook 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the lid – about half the mussels should be open – and stir to redistribute. Put the lid back on and cook 2-3 more minutes, until all the mussels are open. Place in serving bowls and rush to the table.
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