Savoury Black Bean Clams

As the poorest of the poor, the first Chinese immigrants in America (mainly in California) scratched out a meagre living as best they could. Fortunately, they were used to such a challenge, given the dire poverty that had marked their lives in China. One basic need was readily supplied: California was rich in edibles, including many that the Spanish and Anglo residents shunned. (In the old Kung Fu tv series, there were many scenes in which the hero satisfied his hunger with the most unlikely edibles found in the midst of the desert.)

Clams, for example, were spurned in those days by the non-Chinese. But the Chinese immigrants discovered and adopted such foods and turned them into delicious meals. Combining the clams with fermented black beans and, when possible, with a bit of meat and the traditional spices, they created a tasty dinner that in essential ways took their souls back to the homeland.

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  • 2.7 kg (6 lb) medium-sized fresh clams, scrubbed
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fermented black beans
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 225 g (8 oz) minced beef or pork
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 30 g (1 oz) fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish


Soak the clams in several changes of cold water to allow them to expel any sand and grit.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Drizzle in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the black beans, garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the meat and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Now throw in the clams and continue to stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in the soy sauces, rice wine, sugar and chicken stock. Cover and cook over a high heat for 3 minutes, or until the clams start opening. Uncover and continue to cook, removing the clams as they open to a large platter. Discard any clams that remain closed. Finally, stir in the sesame oil. Ladle the mixture over the clams, garnish with the fresh coriander and serve at once.