Dining date: 3/18/12
Growing up, my family would often celebrate special occasions at Great Eastern restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, ordering a host of dishes to share family-style. Over the years, there have been a number of staples including this dish of clams in black bean sauce. Like many dishes I often ate when I was younger, it’s become something very homey and comfortable.
I first made this dish at some point during my college days. It’s actually a very easy (and fast!) dish to make, primarily requiring ingredients already in the pantry of a typical Asian household. I’ve prepared a number of variations of the dish; the one below is pretty close to the one I ate growing up, with the exception of the addition of Thai basil. As far as I know, Thai basil isn’t particularly authentic in Chinese cuisine, but I really like the aroma and flavor it provides to the resulting broth. Perhaps this dish is best described as Chinese with a bit of southeast Asian flair.
Like most stir-fry dishes, I rarely measure anything but I think I’ve got a pretty close approximation below.
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 scallions, sliced thinly with white and green parts separated
1/4 cup sliced ginger
1 1/2 pounds littleneck clams, cleaned and scrubbed
2 tablespoons black beans, lightly crushed
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
3 tablespoons (about a dozen leaves) fresh Thai basil, slicing optional
1/2 teaspoon corn starch, mixed with enough cold water to create a slurry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
I first started by soaking the clams in fresh water for about 45 minutes to remove any sand or impurities, then lightly scrubbed each to remove any debris.
When the clams were cleaned, I added the oil to the pan over high heat. Once the oil was shimmering, I added the white parts of the scallions and the ginger. I like to cut my slices of ginger on the larger side so that they’re easier to avoid when I’m eating.
After about 30 seconds, add the clams and cook for 2 minutes. Add black beans, garlic and Shaoxing wine (and any sliced chilies, optional) to the pan and stir to combine. Some recipes call for adding stock at this point, but I don’t think it’s necessary. There should be plenty of juice released by the clams to create a hearty broth.
As the clams open, remove them from the pan and put into the serving dish. I think this is an important step; some clams take a few minutes longer than others to cook. The ones that open first can overcook by the time the last one opens. So I remove them one-by-one as they’re done, finally leaving just the resulting brown liquid.
Add corn starch slurry. We don’t want a rich gravy, but this will be just enough to create a little body so that the broth isn’t too watery. Add Thai basil and allow it to infuse its flavor for about a minute. Salt and pepper to taste. I usually find there’s enough salt packed into the black beans, but obviously this depends on the brand.
Pour the broth over the clams and garnish with the sliced greens of the scallions. Serve with steamed white rice.
I like to pick up the clams and suck them straight from the shell, scooping up some of the broth into each clam. Yummy. I also like to pour some of the broth into the rice just to double-up on the flavor there. While the tender-yet-chewy clams are very tasty on their own, the broth is the difference-maker in this dish. The natural juice of the clams is layered with ginger, onions, garlic, Thai basil and, of course, the black beans. Pretty delicious if I say so myself!