Black Bean Chicken with Bitter Melon

In the summer months, our next-door neighbours in Chicago used to bring us bitter melon plucked fresh from their tiny garden. They knew it was one of our favourite vegetables. For most people bitter melon is, quite frankly, an acquired taste, although I certainly don’t recall anything but enjoyment when eating this unusual vegetable in the various ways my mother prepared it. However, it was to my advantage that, as I was told, I inherited my taste buds from my grandmother, a wonderful cook who loved bitter melon.

When it is combined with black beans, it at once enlivens prosaic chicken and creates a pungent and savoury dish that will always remind me of the height of summer.

Bitter melon adds a unique dimension to many dishes. It is well worth trying, and is readily available in season at Chinese grocers.

This dish can be cooked ahead of time and reheated, and it is also delicious served cold.

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  • 450 g (1 lb) bitter melon
  • 450 g (1 lb) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or 675 g ( lb) with skin and bones
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 tablespoon groundnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • tablespoons finely chopped spring onions, white part only
  • tablespoons coarsely chopped fermented black beans
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped springs onion greens, to garnish


Wash the bitter melon, cut it in half lengthways and remove the seeds. Cut the melon into 5 mm (¼ in) slices and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper.

Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Mix the soy sauce, rice wine or dry sherry, salt, sugar, sesame oil and cornflour together and pour it over the chicken, blending well. Let the chicken marinate for about 1 hour, then drain it and discard the marinade.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, dump in the chicken. Stir-fry it for 5 minutes, or until the chicken begins to brown. Toss in the ginger, garlic, shallots, white spring onions and black beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring everything to the boil, then reduce the heat. Cover the wok or pan and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked; stir in the bitter melon and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Garnish with the spring onion greens and serve.