When you're not ready for it, the robust garlic-spiked flavor of a dish with black bean garlic sauce can feel like a punch to the mouth. The first time I cooked with it, a dish of stir-fried eggplant, I kept sneaking spoonfuls from the pan and feeling my eyes pop with every umami-packed bite. If you need something that will wake up your tastebuds in these dog days of winter, just find yourself a jar of this sauce and let it work its magic.
Black bean garlic sauce is made by mashing fermented black beans, garlic, and chilis into a rich, savory paste. A little goes a very long way with this pungent ingredient, so add it a teaspoon at a time and taste as you go. It's crucial for dishes like Ma Po Tofu and many Asian stir-fries, but can also be used more generally as a rub for meat and seafood, to add flavor to steamed or roasted vegetables, or mixed into dipping sauces for potstickers and spring rolls.
You can make your own black bean garlic sauce, but jars of pre-made paste can also be found at any store with a decent selection of Asian ingredients. Lee Kum Kee is a popular and widely available brand. Once opened, jars will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.
Ready to experiment? Here are a few recipes to check out: