Fermented Soy Beans-An everyday Ingredient

The soya bean plays such a vital role in Asian cuisine. Utilised to create such important ingredients as soy sauce, tofu and miso, the little cute green soya bean is king!
Over the years the availability fo different soy products has meant more choice for the discerning palate and now it is almost a little overwhelming to make a decision on what to buy.
Most of my friends now have a jar in their fridge of fermented bean paste which is a vital everyday ingredient for Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese dishes. The only problem is getting to knwo the differences. I use Korean and Chinese specifically and for the sake of ease more than anything I decided to leave miso out of it altogether. Have a look at an old post I did on miso.
So some info on soy bean paste to start....

Soy Bean Sauces and Pastes
It is thought that visiting scholar from Goguryeo, the ancient kingdom of Korea, bought fermented soy bean paste to north east China over 2,000 years ago as a dipping condiment specifically for eating with fresh vegetables. Now such an essential part of Chinese cuisine, the fermented bean paste was traditionally made once a year on the second day of the second month of the lunar year. Allowed to harden for a period of several months, natural bacteria forms as white mould at which time it is broken into pieces and stored in pottery vessels specifically made for the preservation of soy paste and has salt and water added that is then mixed regularly. Left out in the harsh sunlight, the fermentation process is speed up dramatically breaking it down into a yellowish runny paste. More salt and water are added to keep the fermentation process alive and eventually after some 6 months, it is ready to be used for the remaining year.
Pastes vary in colour from yellow, brown to black and range in texture from coarse dry beans through to shiny pastes. More pastey than saucy, they are often labelled simply as bean paste. 'Min sze Jeung' is the Chinese for mashed and whole fermented soy beans and 'mor sze jeung' for the smoother or ground paste and this is the term that refers to the most basic of bean sauces. The smoother is one that would generally be used for most Chinese, Malaysian or Singaporean dishes where a bean sauce is called for.
Most well known of bean sauces is hoi sin  jeung, most commonly known as hoisin sauce. A sweet mix of Chinese five spice, garlic, salt and sugar, it is used for many applications in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines.

Black beans go through a similar fermentation process to become 'douche' black bean paste which is very dry and salty. Beans are left whole and must be washed well first to remove the excess saltiness and rubbed gently to remove the exterior shells of the bean itself before being mushed into a paste. Prepared black bean sauces are never as tasty as those you make yourself, lacking in at the fullness of flavor that only salted fermented black beans can bring when used whole.
Bean pastes are used for so many applications to the point that there really is a paste for every dish. 'Tauchu" paste is just for steaming fish, 'hangdog" is a yellow paste that is vital for creating zhajiangmian, a noodles dish with fried pork. Tian main jingo is a sweet paste used with chicken. The list is endless. Look for a basic brown bean paste with out sugar as a starting point to experiment with.

Korean Bean Paste
The Koreans use a bean paste that is indispensable in the kitchen called 'dhwen jang' or 'done jaang' which literally translates as 'thick paste'. The first initial stage of the process is known as cheonggukjang and is a fast fermented product being held at 40 C for just 2-3 days with the addition of bacteria to help the fermentation process along. Made from wither whole or ground soy beans, this can also have the addition of chillies and salt.
The second more lengthy step  involves boiled and stone ground soy beans being formed into blocks that are known as 'meju'. These are aged and sun dried for a more developed flavor. With the help of dried rice plants, living bacteria (bacillus subtilis) grows onto the 'meju' blocks creating fermentation and a smell of ammonia. After 1-3 months these are then placed into pottery vats with brine and further aged and then the liquid and solids are separated and sold individually as 'g'anjang for the liquid and 'doenjang' for the solids.
I find all of the Korean paste to be very versatile in the chopstick kitchen being added to vinegars and oils to make quick dipping sauces and marinades, added to meats for stir fry dishes and to noodles or rice for instant flavpur. Found easily in any Korean supermarket, they show clearly not he lable if they have the addition of chilli or are aged. I find the aged to have more flavor that works equally well for Chinese dishes.
Vietnamese have a thinner sauce named tu'o'ng which is salted and fermented as with the other sauces but uses the addition of roasted soy for a different flavor.

Some more experimentation with Korean pastes have been a revelation to me so when I recently ran out of Chinese produced paste I just opted to stick with my Korean aged paste.I used it for what I call the classic and legendary roast pork-simply air dried to help the skin crackle and then marinated at least over night with aged korean bean paste, 1/2 t sugar, soy and 1 t five spice mixed well and runned into the flesh.Roasted for around 40 mins, the Korean paste actually provides a little more delicate flavour than the Chinese. I may just stick with it!

Some of my super fast mid week speed dishes that make those hard days at work easier to deal with when you come home and just simply chicken marinated with soy bean paste, a touch of sugar and salt, soy, ginger and garlic. This mighty combo cant be beaten really for taste. Stir fried off with some brocolli and with a bowl of rice, it takes 20mins all up with rice cooking time and is delicious, tasy and full of veg yummmm.


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