Doubanjiang: The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine

It’s no secret that we’re big on mapo tofu around here. Surprisingly easy to make and packing a giant flavor punch, it’s rich, creamy, spicy, numbing, and umami all at once. The secret to a truly great mapo tofu is doubanjiang, or preserved fava bean paste or broad bean paste (also known as the “soul of Sichuan cuisine”), not to be confused with preserved black bean paste or soybean paste! 

Here at Fly By Jing, we want to share not only the best flavors from regions all over China, but the history and culture that surrounds them. Chinese food cooking has evolved and changed in many unique and exciting ways over the years, and when you bring these Asian dishes home, you’ll be able to add the unique and exciting flavors and flavor combinations that make it all your own. One of the best ways to do that is to understand where common ingredients like our Mala Spice Mix and condiments like Doubanjiang come from, how to make them in your own kitchen, and what they pair best with. 

What Is Doubanjiang?

One of the reasons doubanjiang is considered such an essential part of Sichuan dishes is because of the spice. Due to climate factors, the Sichuan province of China is known for its peppers, which gives the cuisine a distinctly hot and spicy flavoring that is loved around the world. 

While there are many different types of bean paste used in Chinese cooking, doubanjiang is a specifically spicy one, made with chili peppers, fermented broad beans, soybeans, salt, and flour. In fact, the name roughly translates to “hot” or “spicy,” a way of separating it from the various other non-spicy fermented bean pastes in local cooking, and it's sometimes called chili bean paste or chili bean sauce. This sauce with many names can also be called toban djan.

Within the family of spicy doubanjiang options, the Pixian doubanjiang is the most well-known, and the county of Pixian outside of Chengdu is largely considered the birthplace of doubanjiang. There, they still follow the traditional recipes, in which fermentation takes place in direct sunlight over the course of three years. The coloring is an iconic reddish-brown, and the flavor is spicy, savory, and umami, stronger depending upon the fermentation process. 

In addition to the long period of fermentation, there are also strict guidelines about where the other ingredients in Pixian doubanjiang must come from. For instance, the chilies must be erjingtiao chilis, and the beans and water both must be locally sourced. 

Doubanjiang has a strong flavor profile, which is why you’ll want to mix just a little bit into your favorite recipes, rather than using it as a dipping sauce on the side. Experiment with your favorite Sichuan foods and begin bringing the bold and spicy tastes of this spicy, salty paste into your own kitchen today. 

History of Doubanjiang

Like many Chinese food dishes, the origin of doubanjiang is old and varied. Doubanjiang history also includes the essential elements of travel and cultural evolution that are often associated with Chinese history. 

One such story tells of Chinese immigrants fleeing quickly during war times. Desperate to get to safety, they packed their beans in a bag with chili paste. When they arrived at their destination, the beans had combined and fermented with the chilis, creating a hot chili paste. They enjoyed the flavors so much that they began creating combinations intentionally, developing recipes very similar to the ones still used today. 

How to Make Doubanjiang

Making doubanjiang at home can be very challenging, and it rarely comes close to the aged and fermented doubanjiang available from the Pixian region or even the one you can get at a specialty grocery store. That’s why we carry a doubanjiang mix from the same location, with three-year fermented peppers, that provides the bold and slightly sweet umami flavor you just don’t find anywhere else. 

You’ll be able to make a sauce or paste by mixing it with oil over heat, as well as your other favorite flavors like sugar, Sichuan chili oil, and soy sauce. Then it’s a matter of finding the perfect recipes to go with your doubanjiang. 

Recipes Featuring Doubanjiang?

There are many excellent recipes you can make features doubanjiang for those bold and umami Chinese flavors you love. Interestingly, doubanjiang isn't just limited to Chinese cooking—it also makes a frequent appearance in Japanese and Korean recipes. Here are just a few of our favorites! 

Douban Fish

This dish is incredibly warming and delicious, a perfect main course for a feast. The quality of doubanjiang you use is important here, as it contributes to the main flavor and imbues the fish and tofu with rich umami tastes. 

Ingredients: 

    Fish: 

    1 large whole fish like a sea bass or flounder—scaled and cleaned 

    1 tsp salt

    2 tbsp Shaoxing wine 

    ½ block semi-soft tofu 

    Sauce: 

    4 tbsp Doubanjiang 

    2 tbsp finely minced ginger

    1 tbsp finely minced garlic 

    2 cups stock or bone broth 

    1 tsp sugar 

    2 tsp light soy sauce 

    1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp of water 

    ½ tsp black vinegar 

    3 scallions, thinly sliced—whites and green separated 

    Cilantro to taste 

    

Recipe: 

Step One: Make a few shallow diagonal cuts on each side of the fish. Rub with salt and let marinate in Shaoxing wine for 20 minutes. 

Step Two: Carefully cut the tofu into slices 1/3 inch thick by 2 inches wide. Using a large colander or slotted spoon, boil in salted water for ~3 minutes. Then remove and set aside. 

Step Three: Pat fish dry. 

Step Four: Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a wok until smoking. Add the fish and fry on each side until the skin crisps up. Remove from wok and set aside. Discard oil. 

Step Five: Heat fresh oil (~2 tbsp) in your wok. Add doubanjiang and fry until the oil is red and fragrant. 

Step Six: Add ginger, garlic, and scallion whites and fry until fragrant. Pour in stock, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. 

Step Seven: Carefully put the fish back into the wok and spoon sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover the wok, and allow the fish to simmer for about five minutes on each side. 

Step Eight: Transfer fish to a serving dish and add the tofu. For visual effect, drape the tofu over the fish like a blanket. If this is challenging (the tofu can be very delicate), you can serve the tofu however you want. 

Step Nine: Add cornstarch and the vinegar water mixture to the sauce and bring to a boil. Once thickened, pour over tofu and fish. Top with scallion greens and cilantro and serve immediately. 

And that’s not all. You can use it as a condiment, an ingredient in hot pot, and much, much more. Here are just a few other recipes featuring doubanjiang that you’ll want to try out today. 

Hot Sauce Noodles

Hot sauce noodles embrace all of your favorite Chinese flavors, with the heat of Sichuan cooking right at the very center. In this easy and delicious dish, you’ll enjoy the taste combinations of five-spice flavoring, peanuts, and doubanjiang; all served with pork shoulder over your pick of noodles. You can use wheat flour noodles or sub them out for a gluten-free option to make a dish that works for you.

Vegetable Stir Fry

One of the reasons stir fry is such a classic Chinese food dish is that it’s so versatile and easy to make, with just the ingredients you already have in your kitchen. When you’re ready to take a classic vegetable stir fry to the next level, a little burst of doubanjiang flavoring is sure to do the trick. 

Sichuan Shrimp

You can’t go wrong with adding this hot and umami flavoring to seafood, and Sichuan shrimp is the perfect dish to try out first. In addition to doubanjiang, the flavor profiles of this dish will include ginger, hoisin sauce, Shaoxing wine, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. You can adjust it to your preferred heat level and substitute out your favorite seafood and vegetable ingredients. 

Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce

The truth is, you can never go wrong with garlic sauce. Doubanjiang pairs excellently with garlic sauce, which boosts the sweet and umami flavors and helps to balance out some of the spice. This dish does get more heat from the addition of chilis, but it’s also paired with the bold ingredients of pork and eggplant for a flavor combination you won’t be able to resist.

Conclusion

Doubanjiang is one of those Chinese food home cooking ingredients that’s guaranteed to take all of your favorite dishes to the next level, in terms of heat, umami flavor, and that perfect pinch of sweetness. Because doubanjiang is a fermented dish, you don’t need a lot to embrace all those salty, excellent flavors, so your next batch is sure to last through a great many meals. Mix in with stir-fries, noodles, seafood dishes, and more for a taste of the soul of Sichuan cooking—wherever you may be! 

And visit Fly By Jing to find a doubanjiang mix that guarantees classic spice as you’ve never had it before. Find the right oils and bean pastes and trying out our recommended recipes—then make them all at home in your own kitchen with a personal twist! 

Sources: 

What Is Doubanjiang? And What to Use If You Can’t Find Any

About Doubanjiang | ifood.tv

LA DOUBANJIANG (SPICY BEAN SAUCE) | The Woks of Life

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