What We’re Cooking This Week: Spaghetti With Black Bean Sauce

Don’t let the soy beans’ resemblance to rat turds deter you.

Spaghetti with black bean sauce. Photo by Jim Dixon.

Only those of a certain age (i.e., old people) might remember Eddie Lee’s. Despite good reviews and the usually full dining room, the quirky downtown restaurant at the foot of the Morrison Bridge closed after a short run, a victim of the brutal reality of food service economics. One of my favorite dishes there was spaghetti with black bean sauce, which mixed the ancient flavor of fermented black soy beans with Italian pasta, fresh tomatoes, and shrimp.

Salty and pungent, the fermented beans, called douchi in China, are the oldest known food made from soy. They’re an essential part of the spicy Sichuan dish mapo tofu, but usually in the form of bottled black bean sauce. For this sauce, you’ll need to make a trip to an Asian grocery to get the beans, and while there are often many choices, I’ve always used a brand labeled “Yang Jiang Preserved Beans.” Just look for the yellow cardboard cylinder, and don’t let the fact that the beans look like rat turds deter you.

Eddie Lee’s version strays from more traditional recipes by using a classic French roux for thickening. And I skip the tomatoes and shrimp, so the result is a dark, thick sauce that clings to pasta. It’s also good over rice or polenta, and I’ve spooned it over asparagus and other vegetables.


1/2 cup fermented black soy beans

2 tablespoons chopped ginger

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup dashi or water

2 tablespoons sake or dry white wine

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 bunch cilantro (leaves and stems)*

1 pound spaghetti or similar long pasta

* Save 1/4 cup of leaves for garnish if desired.

Blitz beans in the food processor (or blender) until they break up a bit. Remove and set aside, but before you clean the processor bowl, cut the bunch of cilantro in half to shorten the stems, then blitz the entire bunch of cilantro with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Use a pot large enough to hold the cooked pasta to cook garlic and ginger in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes; don’t let garlic brown. Add the processed beans, cook another few minutes, then stir in the flour to make roux and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add dashi, soy, sake and oyster sauce, bring to boil, and cook for a few minutes or until the sauce thickens. Add the chopped cilantro and remove from the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt, and cook the spaghetti to your preferred degree of al dente. Drain and add the sauce, mix well, and serve.

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