A quick and easy, traditional stir-fried Chinese bitter melon recipe made with tender beef and a homemade black bean sauce made from scratch!
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Bitter melon (bitter gourd) - 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 in our life we were probably forced to eat this at the dinner table for its 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!
This dish is definitely an acquired taste, but the health benefits from it are worth it! 🙂
If you're looking for some simple classic and easy recipes to serve with this dish, I love to contrast the bitter flavors from the melon with my Chinese Ketchup Shrimp Stir Fry, or a simple Scrambled Egg and Shrimp dish.
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 opposed to the common dried hard black beans which are typically used in soups and stews.
How To Choose Bitter Melon At the Store
You can usually find bitter melon at an Asian grocery store or an Indian grocery store. Bitter melons 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. When you are shopping for bitter melons, look for un-bruised and firm ones.
How to Make Bitter Melon Less Bitter
Par-Boiling vs. Non-Par Boiling the Bitter Melon
To remove more of the bitterness, you can par-boil sliced bitter melon in hot water. 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 par-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.
How to Make Chinese Bitter Melon Stir Fry
Prepare 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 is less bitter when you slice them thinner, so I like to cut mine ¼ inch thick.
Make the 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 them locally, your best bet would be to find them 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 them 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 because you will still need a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce at the very end.
Stir Fry Everything Together
Once you have the bitter melon sliced, the beef marinated in a marinade, and the black bean sauce prepared, heat up a wok or frying pan to medium-high heat and pan-fry the beef until it is about 80% done. Then add in the bitter melon and sauce and cook everything for about 1-2 minutes, then mix in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce.
You don't need to peel Chinese bitter melon because the skin is soft and edible.
I like to store it wrapped in a paper towel in the fridge in a loose plastic bag. You want to give it some air so that it doesn't trap moisture and mold but you also want to keep it a little covered so it doesn't dry out.
No, bittermelon does not freeze well in the freezer.
After you slice the bitter melon, you can par-boil it in boiling water for 1 minute to reduce the bitterness.
More Chinese Recipes You May Like
- Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce
- Sweet and Sticky Char Siu (叉烧, Chinese BBQ Pork)
- Chinese Eggplant with Garlic Sauce (鱼香茄子)
- Beef Chow Fun
- Crispy Cantonese Beef Chow Mein
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Stir Fried Bitter Melon with Beef and Black Bean Sauce
- 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
- 1 bitter melon
- 200 g beef (flank, skirt, or any type of steak, cut into thin slices)
- ½ tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon sugar (or honey)
- ½ teaspoon dark soy sauce (optional)
Homemade Black Bean Sauce
- 3 tablespoons fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine
- 1 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoon sugar (or honey)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup water
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 (¼ 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! 🙂
*Nutritional information is calculated using online tools and is an estimate*
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Josephine Jennifer Crawford says
This really looks like something I need to try. I am diabetic and bitter melon is great for us. Thank you for sharing. I am bookmarking this website and will share. Thanks. Keep writing.
Joyce Lee says
My dad whom was also diabetic also used to have this dish a lot! 🙂 It is probably why I grew up eating it a lot as well. I am very happy I am able to share this with you. Thank you so much for your support - it means a lot. Sending you some hugs.
I'm not Asian but ai crave bittermelon! My cousin is from Taiwan and showed me the fermented black beans- I just saute the sliced bittermelon w the blackbeans, some chicken broth, a little soy- delicious with carnitas or any greasy porky goodness. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. My Asian husband thinks I'm crazy- he HATES bittermelon. I also love Campari w an orange rind twist, and double salted Black Licorice- so maybe my palate is just odd.
Joyce Lee says
Wow I'm surprised you crave bittermelon! heehee It is definitely an acquired taste!
I think your idea of using them with carnitas is absolutely fantastic!! I definitely need to try that next time!!
Ryan Heater says
Can you make without the corn starch slurry? How much will it change the dish to leave out?
Joyce Lee says
The corn starch slurry is what will make the sauce thick. You can skip it, but your sauce will be very runny, and might not coat the bitter melon and beef very well but if you are okay with a runnier sauce, then you can skip it.
My sauce was thick without the cornstarch slurry. Great recipe full of nostalgia for me. Thanks Joyce
Joyce Lee says
I am happy you enjoyed it! It's definitely nostalgia for me too - reminds of dinner at home with mom and dad when I was a kid. Back then, I didn't appreciate the bitterness but now that I'm older I definitely appreciate it a lot more. I am very happy that I can share it.
Hi Joyce! I ordered the fermented black beans via your link and made this for dinner tonight and it was a huge hit! I didn't pre-boil the bitter melon but I did cook it a bit longer in the sauce. It was delicious! I can't wait to try more of your detailed recipes! Thank you very much for posting!
Yay! I'm so happy to hear this was a hit! I usually don't pre-boil the bitter melon too - it keeps more of the nutrients in it that way right? 🙂 I am always happy to share!
Sophie | Delightful Plate says
I hated bitter melon with a passion when I was a kid. It must have been 20 years since I last ate it. Your bitter melon with black bean sauce looks really delicious!
I did too haha! I won't lie, I still kind of cringe sometimes when I have to eat it - but Terry has never tried it so I was curious to see if he would actually like it and surprisingly it wasn't too turned off by it so that was a big bonus! Then I had a friend tell me she loved this stuff (which I found really odd) so I thought I'd put together a recipe for all the unique people out there that actually like this! 🙂 Like my parents. haha! 🙂
heather (delicious not gorgeous) says
major nostalgia (: my grandma would put this in soup all the time, but i haven't had it with black bean sauce before!
I know exactly what you mean 🙂 this definitely brought back a lot of memories
You selected my favourite dish Bitter Melon with black bean sauce, I really do love this dish, simple ingredients, almost each Asian kitchen has these. Eat bitter melon is very good to your health especially when one has acne. The bitter enzyme is powerful has proved to use for medication in some sort. I do like your cooking tips and analysis such as the ways of pre-boiling vs boiling , very detailed oriented, instructions, you don't jump directly into cooking. That make you do a lot of work.
I really do enjoy your cooking blog, Joyce.
Yes, I recall my mom and dad cooking this for me a lot when I was younger for acne reasons haha 🙂 My dad went through a stage of diabetes as well and bitter melon actually helped him quite a bit! Thank you for your kind words, I do like to give options that's why I show the 2 different methods of doing it (boil vs no boil) so they can choose themselves if they prefer the more raw alternative for the health benefits 🙂