This handy Chinese condiment is a sure-fire speedy way of adding a flavour boost to a raft of dishes.
Asian supermarkets have a mind-boggling array of sauces and condiments and one of the biggest subsections is chilli sauces and pastes. Dear to our hearts here at GT and indispensable in our pantries is chilli bean paste, a richly flavoured condiment that lends a beautiful spicy complexity to all manner of Asian dishes.
There are many varieties, but here we're talking about the Chinese condiment, which delivers serious bang for your buck in the flavour stakes. The consistency varies from a thick paste to a thinner sauce, but common to them all is the use of fermented or germinated beans - soy beans or broad beans - along with chillies, oil and flavourings such as ginger, garlic and sugar (some also contain MSG, so check the labelling; the jars should have an ingredient list in English).
This remarkably tasty paste guarantees even the most humble of meals is lifted to greater heights, be it a heart-warming soup or good old scrambled eggs. The choice of chilli bean paste is very personal, and requires a bit of experimentation, so grab a couple of jars and do a taste test to find your favourite. Some are intensely flavoured and need to be treated with caution, while others are milder - Sichuan versions are widely considered to be the tastiest of the lot. Add it to dishes little by little to gauge its impact and serve extra alongside at the table.
Spicy tofu soup
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp finely grated ginger and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Stir in 1 tbsp chilli bean paste, then 1 litre chicken stock, 60ml soy sauce and 60ml Shaoxing wine, bring to a simmer and simmer until flavours develop (4-5 minutes). Add 4 baby bok choy, leaves separated, and simmer until just tender (2-3 minutes). Stir in 500gm diced firm tofu, simmer to warm through and serve scattered with thinly sliced Chinese chives.
Beef and broccolini fried rice with chilli bean paste
Heat 1½ tbsp vegetable oil in a wok over high heat, add 200gm thinly sliced beef blade and stir-fry to brown (1-2 minutes). Stir in 1 tbsp chilli bean paste and 1 tbsp soy sauce, stir-fry to combine and place in a bowl. Wipe out wok with paper towels, add 1 tbsp vegetable oil, heat over high heat, then add 1½ bunches chopped broccolini and stir-fry until tender (2-3 minutes), adding 1 tbsp finely grated ginger towards the end of cooking. Add to beef. Heat another 2 tbsp oil in the wok over high heat. Gently break up 300gm cooked rice (leftover takeaway rice is perfect), add to wok and stir-fry, keeping the rice moving to prevent it sticking, until warmed through (2-3 minutes). Return beef mixture to pan and stir-fry until hot. Add extra chilli bean paste and soy sauce to taste, 2 thinly sliced spring onions and sesame oil to taste and stir-fry to combine. Season to taste and serve topped with extra thinly sliced spring onion and roasted sesame seeds.
Chilli bean and mushroom scrambled egg
Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat, add 100gm sliced shiitake mushrooms, 1 tbsp finely grated ginger, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and thinly sliced white part of 2 spring onions, and stir-fry until just tender (1-2 minutes). Transfer to a plate. Heat another 2 tbsp oil, add 6 eggs lightly whisked with 1 tbsp soy sauce and stir-fry until scrambled. Return mushrooms to pan, add 1-2 tbsp chilli bean paste to taste, stir to just combine and serve topped with sliced green part of spring onions.
Chilli bean chicken
Heat 2½ tbsp vegetable oil in a wok over high heat, add 6 skinless chicken thigh fillets cut into bite-size pieces and stir-fry until golden brown (2-3 minutes). Set aside. Add 2 tbsp vegetable oil to wok and when hot add 1 tbsp finely grated ginger, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 3 thinly sliced spring onions and stir-fry until fragrant (30 seconds). Add 2 tbsp chilli bean paste, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine, 1 tsp caster sugar and 1 tsp sesame oil. Season to taste and stir-fry until fragrant (2-3 minutes). Return chicken to pan and stir-fry to coat well (2-3 minutes). Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
- Chilli bean paste varies in intensity and flavour brand to brand. We prefer the Fu Chi brand because it has a fresher, milder flavour than other chilli pastes and contains less preservatives.
- To deepen the flavour of the paste, stir-fry it in a little oil before using.
Love spice? Check out our collection of fast spicy recipes.