Traditional stir fried Chinese bitter melon recipe made with beef and a homemade black bean sauce made from scratch.
Bitter melon – you either love it or you hate it. If you love it, keep reading – this recipe will be right up your alley! 🙂 …and if you’re curious then give it a try (just do it in a smaller batch to see if you like it). Either way, this is definitely going to be an acquired taste.
For this bitter melon recipe, I stayed close to the traditional way of serving it because it hits close to home and brings a lot of nostalgia eating it this way. (I am sure most Asians can relate to this, since at one point of our life we were probably forced to eat this at the dinner table for it’s nutritional benefits).
The black bean sauce compliments the beef very well (and it works equally well with chicken as well) and the sauce masks some of the bitter flavor from the melon as well which is great because bitter melon itself doesn’t really have much of a flavor except bitter and ‘green’. 😉 So for anyone who is looking for a classic Chinese bitter melon recipe – this one’s for you!
For this recipe bitter melon recipe, you can find most things from your local grocery store, however bitter melon, fermented black beans and oyster sauce might be trickier to find and will most likely be found at an Asian grocery store.
Fermented black beans are not the same as the black beans you find in grocery stores. Fermented black beans are softer and fermented and very salty – as oppose to the common dried hard black beans which are typically used in soups and stews. If you are curious about it, you can read more about it on my post about ‘Fermented Black Beans‘.
How to Pick Bitter Melon
You can usually find bitter melon at an Asian grocery store or Indian grocery store. Bitter melon from an Asian grocery store will be different looking than the ones you find at an Indian grocery store but will have very similar flavor. I write more in detail of the differences in my ‘Bitter Melon‘ post if you are curious to learn more about it, but to simplify this post, when you are shopping for bitter melon, look for un-bruised, firm ones.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Preparing the Bitter Melon
To prepare bitter melon, cut it in half length wise and scoop out all the seeds and spongy encasing with the spoon. Once the bitter melon has been cleaned out, you can slice it up. I find it taste less bitter when you slice them thinner, so I like to cut mine 1/4 inch thick.
Pre-Boiling vs. Non Pre Boiling the Bitter Melon
To remove more of the bitterness, you can pre-boil it in hot water quickly as well. Try not to boil it for more than 1 minute (I like to boil it for about 30 seconds), the longer you boil it the mushier the melon will be and it can potentially fall apart during the stir frying stage.
You can also skip pre-boiling the bitter melon and use it as-is right after you slice it up. The outcome in the final dish will be a firmer bitter melon texture with a bit of a crunch but it will be slightly more bitter. The bonus to doing this is it keeps all the nutrients since you won’t be losing in by boiling it.
Homemade Black Bean Sauce
Making homemade black bean sauce is a lot easier than you think, the hardest part is probably finding fermented black beans. Keep in mind that the fermented black beans are not the same as the dried black beans you find at the grocery store, and if you are having a hard time finding it locally, your best bet would be finding it online – don’t worry these have a very high shelf life from the high salt content.
To make the homemade black bean sauce, I find quickly soaking the fermented black beans to give it a little moisture helps before smushing them with a back of a spoon (or you can chop them up with a knife).
Once you have the smushing out of the way, you just combine it with the rest of the sauce ingredients (soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, water, garlic and sesame oil) and you’re good to go. At this point it will still look watery, you will still need the corn starch slurry to thicken it at the very end.
This dish is definitely an acquired taste, but the health benefits from it is worth it! 🙂
Bitter Melon Recipe with Black Bean Sauce
- 1 bitter melon
- 200 g beef (flank, skirt, or any type of steak, cut into thin slices)
Homemade Black Bean Sauce
Corn Starch Slurry (Thickener)
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 3 tablespoons water
- Wash the bitter melon, and on a cutting board - cut it length wise down the middle
- Scrape the seeds out with a spoon
- Thinly slice the melon (1/4 inch thick) and set it aside in a bowl
- Mix the corn starch and water (the water must be cold) and set aside for the very end. We will use the corn starch slurry to thicken the sauce.
Marinating the Beef
- Thinly slice the beef and add it to a bowl
- Combine the marinade ingredients into bowl with the beef and mix it together. Set it aside for later.
Preparing the Homemade Black Bean Sauce
- In a bowl, gently rinse the fermented black beans for a few seconds to soften it a bit more and to rinse out some of the salt.
- On a cutting board, smush the beans up with the back of a spoon (or finely chop it with a knife) and add it back to the bowl.
- Finely chop the garlic and add it to the bowl
- Combine the rest of the 'Homemade Black Bean Sauce' ingredients into the bowl and mix and set aside
BOILING THE BITTER MELON (Optional)
- Fill a pot up with water and set it on the stove and wait for it to boil.
- Once the water is boiling, add the bitter melon in and cook it for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Drain and run the bitter melon under cold water in a strainer or throw it in a ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Once the bitter melon is cool, set it in a strainer/colander and set it aside.
STIR FRYING EVERYTHING TOGETHER
- In a frying pan, add a bit of oil and set it to medium to medium high heat
- Once the pan and oil is hot, add in the beef and quickly stir fry it until it is just cooked (approximately 3-4 minutes)
- Add in the fermented black bean sauce and cook it for 1-2 minutes
- Stir the corn starch slurry (the corn starch will settle to the bottom), and once it is well mixed, add it into the sauce keep stirring until the sauce is thick - the sauce should be a dark brown color that looks glossy and thick. (Don't worry if the sauce looks very thick, it will stick to the bitter melon better this way)
- Add in the bitter melon and cook it for 1-2 minutes. If you didn't boil it, cook it for 1-2 minutes more.
- Enjoy with a side of rice! 🙂
- To retain more nutrients from the bitter melon, you can skip pre-boiling the bitter melon and directly cook it in the frying pan with the sauce. The bitter melon will be more bitter and have a bit more raw veggie crunch.
- This recipe makes enough for 2 people but can easily doubled with no issues
All calories and info are based on a third party calculator and are only an estimate. Actual nutritional info will vary with brands used, your measuring methods, portion sizes and more.
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