As one variety of the three most famous Sichuan doubanjiangs, Pixian doubanjiang is named after the town of Pixian in Sichuan of China. It is a bright oily thick paste made from fermented broad beans, fresh chili pepper, wheat flour and salt, and serves as the soul of Sichuan cooking. About half of Sichuan foods are cooked with doubanjiang. Its popularity and importance to Sichuan food is like ketchup to Americans. This article serves as its unrivaled authentic guide to Pixian doubanjiang on the net, not a general guide to doubanjiang. See Top 10 Doubanjiang for a quick pick.
What's Pixian Douban
Pixian douban is fermented from only four basic ingredients of broad beans, fresh chili peppers, wheat flour and salt. It is indigenous to the unique special natural production enviroment in the town of Pixian of Sichuan. After peeled and quickly boiled, broad beans are firstly fermented over 6 months with the koji of wheat flour. Around the end of July, fresh Erjintiao chili peppers, which are a little similar to the long thin cayenne peppers in US, are specially selected and chopped in big chunks. Proportionally mixed with salt and water, the two key ingredients of fermented broad beans and chopped chili peppers are then naturally fermented outside under the sunlight for at least another 3 months to impart flavors. The matured Pixian doubanjiang is bright oily even though it has no oil added at all and its color is reddish or dark brown as shown in the right of picture. The whole pieces of broad beans and large chunks of chili peppers remain in the matured product, making its texture rather coarse.
Once matured, the original Pixian douban is simply packaged in plastic papers to sell without adding anything else. You may be able to continue its fermentation process under the sunlight at home to make your own long-aged version. Once stir-fried in oil, Pixian doubanjiang imparts its red brown color and deep complex umami flavor to food it touches, making itself the soul of Sichuan cooking.
Pixian doubanjiang is also popularly packed in jars with additional chili oil or red oil (红油), as shown on the right of the picture. By adding a small amount of chili oil, not only the original bright red brown color is protected from becoming darker with time, but also the manufacturer can blend its own spices to create an extra layer of flavoring, which is the simplest way for one brand to differentiate itself from the others. That is why some product labels may contain the ingredient of "spice blend", "spices", or so on. A manufacturer may also chops the doubanjiang properly to make it ready to use without the need of further chopping at use, particularly convenient in commerical kitchens. Dishes cooked with oil-added Pixian doubanjiang have brighter color and richer taste. Unfortunately, the little extra oil reduces the shelf life time significantly.
However, oil-added Pixian doubanjiang is normally fermented in only a few monthes.
To learn how to cook with Pixian douban, you'd better know first what the raw paste tastes like. Because Pixian douban contains about 18% salt, it is the primary source of salt in many recipes. It is too salty to eat Pixian douban directly without combining with rice or something else to compromise.
To taste out, tip one spoon of Pixian douban into one bowl of fresh hot rice and eat with rice. That is the RAW beany taste of Pixian douban. This raw beany taste should not appear in final dishes in the way of "as is" - the secret that "doubanjiang should not taste like doubanjiang". It is usually safe to directly eat the jarred one which has been sealed with chili oil on the top.
The expected taste comes out from stir-frying with cooking oil. Heat one or two spoon of cooking oil in a wok or pan over medium-low heat. Stir fry one spoon of Pixian douban slowly until the cooking oil is fully infused with the paste and becomes reddish, and at the same time, a aromatic smell comes out of the wok. Stir one bowl of cooked rice (overnight rice is better) into the wok until the rice becomes fully hot. This simplest fried rice is close to the expected taste and color of Pixian douban in formal cooks. The fried rice has a savory, slightly spicy and mellow taste:
- If the fried rice tastes like the raw beany taste of Pixian douban, it means the paste does not stir fry long enough to completely impart its flavor out into the rice.
- The taste of whole pieces of broad beans in the fried rice is crunchy, savory, salty, and completely different from the taste and mouthfeel of the fried rice. That is why doubanjiang should be miced not only to avoid whole pieces to appear in final dishes but also to get more falvor out of them into food.
- Stir-frying doubanjiang should keep under medium heat such that the paste does not get burned before its flavors are imparted out completely.
- Stir-frying doubanjiang until it is nearly caramelized gives another deep, naturally sweet dimension that cannot be achieved by adding sugar.
To improve the "Pixian fried rice" further in the way of "Sichuan cooking", simply add some minced ginger, garlic and scallion before stir fry Pixian douban. Adding extra ingredients in such way is on the path to authentic Sichuan cooking.
Doubanjiang should not taste like doubanjiang
One secret inside each product label is that nowadays, an authentic Pixian douban should have the official trademark of geographical indication "郫县豆瓣" which was authorized by General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China (AQSIQ). The stringent requirements for a manufacturer to be certified include:
- The fresh chili peppers have to be erjintiao harvested from July to the 15th day after autumn in Lunar calendar.
- Broad bean fermentation takes at least 6 months, including at least one summer.
- Second fermenting process of the mixed broad beans, chili peppers and salt take at least 3 months.
In practice, each individual company may have its own re-layout of the GI trademark, but the four Chinese letters for the trademark name "郫县豆瓣" should have the same calligraphic shape or the same cursive style as shown here. For consumers like us, this GI trademark is the key indicator whether a commercial pack of Pixian douban is authentic or not, but is not an indicator who is an knock-off.
Surprisingly, the actual offical name of Pixian broad bean paste is "Pixian Douban", not "Pixian Doubanjiang" in Madarin Chinese. Unfornatuely, I couldn't find its official reason anywhere.
The next two pictures shows a list of Pixian douban products available in the US market. All of them have the GI trademark on label, which means that they are all authentically manufactured in Pixian, following the official Pixian GI standard. We checked every single manufacturer in the image with the Chinese governmental records linked above and no false result was found. That is, those Pixian douban are all authentic.
There is one brand which can be easily found in Asian stores and uses the "Pixian Douban" GI trademark, but it cannot be verified in the Chinese government records.
The product image list itself gives a clear message that the jarred Pixian douban with chili oil are most popular. They are also the preferred choice by most restaurant chefs. The reasons would be:
- The final finish has a brighter look.
- The doubanjiang has already been minced properly (not always though)
- The added spices offer extra well-balanced flavors
Home cooks, however, prefer the original version which has no addintional oil and no additional ingredient as well.
In the government website of Pixian county, the news reports on China Time-Honored Brands, China 2014 Quality Awards, 2015 Italian Green Food and other information on the site suggest that the top 5 brands are Shao Feng He, JuanCheng, Dandan, Gu Wang Fang and Qiao Niang Fang. Fortunately today, only "Shao Feng He" brand does not reach the US market.
In particular, JuanCheng original version in paper packaging has the deepest complex flavor, but the resulting dishes are pretty dark, maybe too dark in commercial settings. Dandan original one is less dry and slightly less deep in flavor than the JuanCheng original, but the resluting color is brighter, giving a better balance between flavor and appearance. To serve guests at home, Gu Wang Fang and Qiao Niang Fang red oil ones offer the best compromise between flavor and looking.
One sicientifical research via electronic nose analysis of Qiao Niang Fang and Dandan concluded that Qiao Niang Fang is better for twice-cooked pork and mapo tofu, while Dandan is better for shuizu pork. What that means is that different brand has its own unique strength. Pick one that fits the real need.
Instead of picking from the top 5, many professional cooks prefer their own brands. Different brand contains different "spices" which offers slightly different flavors.
The best amount of salt for human palate is 0.7 - 1.0% in content. Pixian douban generally contains about 18% salt (actaul range is 16-22%) in average. As an example, 3 grams of salt means 17 grams of Pixian douban which is about the amount of one tablespoon (15 gram if water). In other words, one tablespoon (17 grams) of Pixian douban can replace 3 gram salt to flavor about 300-400 gram food. A little less Pixian douban reserves a room for final taste tuning with salt or other flavor enhancers.
Stir frying in oil is the starting point in general. General detailed instruction is coming soon
Does Pixian douban have to stir fry?
Yes in general sake. Doubanjiang has to stir fry to impart its flavor into your recipe. One thumbnail rule is your finish does not have the raw beany taste of doubanjiang.
How to stir fry doubanjiang
Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan to low medium hot. Stir fry Pixian douban slowly under medium heat until cooking oil is fully infused with the paste and becomes reddish. Sichuan cooks call this process as "stir-frying for reddish oil" (炒红油).
Does doubanjiang have to be miced before use?
Yes in general and dependent in specific. The judge is to make the chili peppers and broad beans in doubanjiang consistent in shape with other ingredients. The jar-packaged oil version may be miced already.
How to mice doubanjiang?
Micing doubanjiang is a tricky work. A commercial kitchen may use its meat-grounding machine to do this work in batch. Home cook may use cuttingboard with care.
Should I buy an oil-added or original one?
Dependent. The original Pixian douban has only the basic ingredients of broad bean, chili pepper, salt and water, without chili oil added. It is fermented longer than oiled one. If you are concerned about the additional oil and spices, buy the original no-oil ones which are usually packaged in plastic bags. Otherwise, buy a jar-packaged oil one for some extra benefits. Don't scare yourself with the added oil because each one kilogram jar may have only one or two spoon of oil added on the top during packaging.
Which brand is the best to buy?
It is the same question as which French red wine is the best for you. This article should have given you a complete guide to help choosing a right one. If not, please leave comment or question below.
Where are the best places to use Pixian douban?
Doubanjiang is the soul of Sichuan coooking. Without it, you will not be able to cook many types of dishes, including Mapo Tofu. Pixian douban can add its magical flavoring into almost any stir-frying and brown hot-cooking recipes, including Mapo Tofu, Shuizhu xxx and such.
In general, if a hot-cooking recipe calls for soy sauce, it may be able to substitute with doubanjiang most of time. Remember that about half Sichuan foods is cooked with doubanjiang.
Is Pixian douban gluten free?
No, it has wheat flour to promote fermentation. You have to make your own gluten-free version at home instead.
Which Pixian douban can be used for vegetarian cooking?
The original Pixian douban packaged in soft plastics has no animal ingredients. Most oils added are vegatable oils only.
How much Pixian douban shoud be used in recipe?
The best salt amount for human palate is 0.7 - 1.0%. Pixian douban contains about 18% salt. As an example, 3 grams of salt means 17 grams of Pixian douban which is about the amount of one tablespoon (15 gram if water).That is, 15 grams (1 tbsp) of Pixian douban can replace 3 gram salt to flavor about 300-400 gram food and a little less Pixian douban reserves a room for final taste tuning.
How to store Pixian douban once opened?
The always correct way is to put it into refridge once opened. Pixian douban exists long before refrigerator was invented though.
Beside Pixian, is there another doubanjiang made in Sichuan?
Yes, of course. Pixian douban is only one type of the three most famous doubanjiangs in Sichuan. About 20 years ago, every county in Sichuan had their own workshops of making doubanjiang, soy sauce, vinegar and cooking oil, which were sold loosely at local convenient stores. During progress of home cooking, parents were usually yawning their kids to buy those stuff with jar or bottle from home, which is the culture background of today's internet social language roughly translated as "Your mom is asking you to buy soy sauce" and "I am on my way to buy soy sauce"
Today, there still are a lot of small brands in China's market. For example, Linjiangsi doubanjiang has over 300 year's history and its sesame oil (麻油豆瓣) and baby shrimp （金钩豆瓣） ones are still the best in China. It is another one of the three best doubanjiangs in Sichuan. Unfortunately, it is not available in the United States yet.
This list of doubanjiangs are all made in Sichuan, but not in Pixian by big food manufacturers. They offer their own unique flavors and available in Asian stores. Some of them are specially needed for some Sichuan cooking we will touch somewhere.
Where to buy
Asian grocery stores or online mail orders