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Sauces are the commanders of flavor, leading a hundred flavors in their wake. They are indispensable in many dishes, such as the famous Mapo Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles, where the soul of the dish lies in the Doubanjiang sauce. A year ago, many fans requested a recipe for Doubanjiang sauce, and I myself love it too. Combining tradition with my own experience, I began to experiment with the feasibility of making delicious Doubanjiang sauce in the limited conditions of my home, and thus the plan was launched.
Doubanjiang sauce is mainly fermented from chili and fermented soybean paste, creating a complex and layered flavor. The beans used to make the soybean paste can be ysoybeans or broad beans, each with a different fresh aroma. I chose broad beans, wanting to explore a different fresh aroma from using yellow soybeans to ferment soy sauce. Broad beans are rich in protein and have a complete set of amino acids, but those with G6PD deficiency should avoid them.
The mold is the soul of fermentation and critical to the flavor of the sauce. I found a brewing fermentation strain specifically for making sauce – Jangpum Kwangjong. Only a small amount is needed, with the remainder reserved for the next experiment to make fermented bean paste.
Another key point is the fermentation of chili peppers. Many people may not know that chili peppers naturally have a sweet taste, which is masked by the stimulation of capsaicin. Fermented chili peppers produce a complex and diverse aroma, and the once pungent chili becomes soft and mellow. The variety and spiciness of the chili peppers can be selected according to personal preference. As I didn’t have the courage to use extremely spicy peppers like the “Facing Heaven” variety, I mixed in some mildly spicy red peppers. I applied my experience of making chili sauce to making Doubanjiang sauce, fermenting the chili peppers and bean paste together, and the flavor was indeed remarkable.
Fresh chili peppers are essential for fermenting chili paste. The fermented chili peppers must be fresh and not spoiled. If the stem is dark green and moldy, and the pepper is soft and wrinkled, it is no longer fresh.
Sea salt is an easily overlooked ingredient, but it is essential for the saltiness of Doubanjiang sauce. For this recipe, I spared no expense and used my stash of “Sel de Guerande” sea salt that had been sitting at home for a while. The salt has a round, smooth, and gentle saltiness that doesn’t overpower the natural flavors of the ingredients. It’s hard to let go of it when using it, and even harder to let go of when eating the finished dish. The mild, salty, spicy, and fresh taste, coupled with the aroma that spreads throughout the mouth upon consumption, is truly irresistible.
You might think that the fermentation process involves many steps, but compared to the complicated process of baking, I prefer the natural and healthy benefits of fermented food. After completing the initial steps of culturing and mixing, it’s all up to the mold to do its job.
I’ve been impatiently waiting for my Doubanjiang sauce to ferment for a year, but with traveling and moving, it took longer than expected. When I finally opened the jar a year and two months later, the aroma of the sauce filled the air, and my mouth began to water. The fermented Doubanjiang sauce emitted a rich, warm, and mellow fragrance, making the one-year wait worthwhile, even though I didn’t attend to it during that time. The flavor is incomparable to the store-bought instant versions that are made by cooking soybeans, adding chemical seasonings and chili, and thickening with starch. The homemade sauce has a complex and unique taste that cannot be replicated by any shortcuts.
- Facing Heaven Chilli 200g
- Big Red Chilli 900g
- Apple Puree 600g
- Fava Beans 1000g
- Sea Salt 100g
- Cake Flour 300g
- Doubanjiang Starter 1/2 tsp
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【Fermented Chili Paste】
1. Remove the stems from the Big Red Chili and Facing Heaven Chili. Wash them clean and drain off any excess water. Cut the chilies into small pieces. As Facing Heaven Chilies are too spicy, I use scissors to cut them directly into a blender, which avoids irritations to the eyes and hands. Blend the chilies into a paste using a blender.
2. Remove the stems and skin from the apple, cut it into small pieces, and blend it into a puree using a blender.
3. Mix the chili paste and apple puree in a sterilized glass jar. Use an alcohol-sprayed kitchen towel to wipe the inside of the jar clean, and cover it with a lid. Ferment the mixture for 4-5 days at room temperature (25°C). On the second day, the thick paste will show changes, and gas will be produced during fermentation, causing the fruit residue to float up. Open the jar once a day and stir the mixture. If white mold appears on the surface, scrape it off with a clean spoon. The once pungent chili paste will become soft and mellow.
【Making Doubanjiang Starter】
4. Soak the fava beans in a large container filled with water for 8-10 hours. Drain the water and break the fava beans apart.
5. Spread the fava beans evenly on a large shallow plate, and steam them for 10-15 minutes. The fava beans should be cooked through to make it easier for the mold to penetrate and grow inside. Use a spoon to press the fava beans, and if they are easily crushed, it means they are cooked through.
7. Allow the fava beans to cool to about 35°C.
8. Mix the Doubanjiang starter and cake flour until well combined, and pour the mixture over the cooled fava beans. Mix well.
9. Mix the flour and fava beans together until the mold is evenly spread over each fava bean. The spores of the mold will germinate in about 4-6 hours, and during this period, it’s important to maintain warmth. Cover the container with a cotton cloth and place it in an oven, maintaining a temperature between 30-34°C. I use a steam oven with eco-mode upper and lower heat set at 35°C. Ferment for 6-12 hours.
10. If the temperature rises to 38°C, turn the fava beans over to prevent overheating.
【After 12 hours】
11. After 12 hours, remove the cotton cloth and allow air to circulate. You will begin to see white mold growing on the surface of the fava beans. During the spore germination period, the fava beans will generate heat on their own. If the temperature of the fava beans rises to 38°C, turn them over to prevent overheating. Separate the clumps of fava beans, flatten them out, and cover them with a cotton cloth to continue fermentation at room temperature. There’s no need to put them back in the oven once they start to generate heat.
【After 24 hours】
12. The mold growth is vigorous, and the fava beans continue to generate heat. Monitor the temperature of the fava beans, and if it exceeds 38°C, turn them over to cool down.
【After 48 hours】
13. The color of the mold begins to change from white to yellow-green. Carefully break apart any clumps of fava beans, and watch the temperature of the mold. There’s no need to cover them with a cloth, just spread them out to allow for better air circulation, cooling, and moisture release. This will help the mold to grow and penetrate the fava beans better.
【After 72 hours】
14. After 72 hours, the surface of the fava beans will have turned yellow-green, indicating that the fermentation process is complete. The fava beans will no longer generate heat, and the temperature will return to room temperature. Allow the fava beans to dry naturally for 1-2 days until they become Doubanjiang starter.
15. Rinse the surface of the mung beans with cold water to remove the mycelium, then the koji enzymes that remain inside the mung beans continue to break down the proteins and fatty acids, forming small flavorful molecules. Add salt-tolerant yeast to ferment and produce a complex and rich aroma.
16. Repeat the rinsing process 2-3 times and drain the water.
17. Since the Fat Ting family does not have the condition for sun-drying, spread the mung beans on a baking tray in a dryer and dry them at 45°C for 6-8 hours. If you can dry them in the sun, the dried mung beans will emit a fragrant aroma similar to that of fermented bean paste.
18. Put the mung bean koji into a sterilized glass jar, pour in the fermented chili paste, mix well, and stir once a week. The aroma produced by the fermentation of chili paste and mung bean koji together is amazing, and it takes at least half a year to feel it.
19. Add sea salt and mix well.
20.Use a kitchen towel moistened with white wine to wipe the glass walls clean. Stir once a week during the first month, and ferment for at least one year.
21. To ensure clear visibility for filming purposes, I used a large glass jar. For normal sauce-making, it is best to fill the jar only about 7-8 tenths full to reduce the surface area of the sauce exposed to the air.
22. The fava beans begin to break down and turn into a paste. The sauce that sticks to the sides of the jar will disperse the number of microorganisms, which can come into contact with the air and cause white mold to grow. If you notice any white mold, immediately stir the sauce, smooth the surface, and press it down firmly to prevent the mold from growing. It’s crucial to keep the inside of the jar clean.
23. The amount of white mold decreases, and the fermentation is going well. Stir the surface layer and the bottom layer of sauce evenly.
24. Place baking paper on top of the sauce and press it down firmly to make it adhere tightly to the sauce. Put baking stones in a sealed plastic bag and press them tightly against the sauce inside the jar to prevent the surface of the sauce from being contaminated by airborne mold. After that, there’s no need to stir the sauce every week. Just wait patiently. If the sauce is not protected from exposure to air, mold may continue to grow on the surface and spoil the sauce.
25. No more white mold appears, and the fermentation is going well. The sauce starts to release a brownish-red liquid.
26. With time, the sauce gradually turns into a reddish-brown color, and with the help of microorganisms, it acquires a unique and delicious flavor. The fermentation process cannot be shortened.
27. The sauce releases a rich and flavorful brownish-red liquid. Before consuming the sauce, divide it into smaller jars. All containers and utensils should be disinfected before dividing the sauce. Please refer to the “Cleaning and Disinfecting” video for disinfection methods.
28. Remove the baking stones and transfer the sauce to a porcelain or glass jar for easy access. Avoid using plastic or metal containers. Press out the air, and store the jar in the refrigerator. The larger the mass of the mold, the stronger its antibacterial properties. The sauce that sticks to the sides of the jar is more susceptible to contamination by airborne mold and can affect the entire jar, so it must be removed before storage. This will help to preserve the sauce better.
29. Label the jar with the production date and store it in the refrigerator. The remaining Doubanjiang starter can continue to ferment at room temperature. Disinfect a smaller glass jar and transfer the remaining sauce to it. Clean the sides of the jar, lay baking paper on top of the sauce, and press baking stones against it. Allow it to ferment for one year, and the basic flavor should have developed by then.
30. I plan to open this jar in five years and look forward to a richer and fuller flavor. See you in 2025!