Sunday Lunch: Ming’s Clams and Black Bean Sauce

If you’ve read this blog before, you already know how much I love doing a Sunday lunch with no time pressures from grading papers, preparing a class or doing house chores.  These rare but ideal conditions produce some of my favorite meals.  Today’s was Ming Tsai’s Clams with Fermented Black Bean Sauce.

Clams and Black Bean Sauce full table

Given the oil, salt and spicy content of this dish, my wife had to evacuate the area for a few hours, but the rich flavors more than compensated for the loss of her company.

I had purchased some fermented black beans several years ago in a Chinese market.  Having used a small quantity previously, I stored the balance in a sealed plastic bag, and they were perfectly usable for this dish.  I followed Ming Tsai’s approach and found it to be superb.  This website has an excellent 23-minute video on the topic of black bean sauce, plus the recipes you will need to do the dishes.  Since I am still in the vitamin B-12 restorative phase, I focused on the clam dish, and it was most pleasing —  although not vegan.  My one concession to avoiding some animal protein was to skip the addition of butter, which really isn’t needed.

A good wok is a prerequisite, and the simple all-steel one I bought in San Francisco 30 years ago is well seasoned and performs beautifully.  The relatively long cooking times to open fresh clams and the high oil content of the dish create extremely satisfying caramelization of the garlic-ginger-scallion-black bean mixture:

Clams (not yet) and Black Bean Sauce

While I did not use butter, I did add a half of a jalapeno — diced — which added to the kick-ass punch of the dish.

Clams and Black Bean Sauce

If you have to do animal protein, I submit that this is the way to do it.  We had a small amount of leftover white rice from Chinese takeout last night, so I threw that in at the end to mop up the sauce.  Not a bad idea.

Wines are never a problem.  Instead of chicken soup in Ming’s recipe, I added 1/4 cup of a Sardinian Vermentino, Argiolas Costamolino, which helped steam the clams open.  A half glass of that was OK with the dish, as was some of the Valagarina from northern Italy, but the real winner for wine accompaniment was a Sere from the Monsant region of Spain, 80% Garnacha, 20% Samsó.  It was the perfect complement to the richly caramelized aromatics.

Sere

Sere back label

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