Chinese Black Bean-Chocolate Ganache with Huckleberries, Mandarin Oranges, Stevia, and Vietnamese Balm
Chinese Black Bean-Chocolate Ganache with Huckleberries, Mandarin Oranges, Stevia, and Vietnamese Balm Credit: Julia Thiel

Last week Grant Achatz of Alinea, who kicked off this new feature by creating a cocktail using kluwak kupas, challenged Curtis Duffy of Avenues to come up with the next recipe using Chinese black beans.

One of Achatz’s goals when he picked Chinese black beans for former Alinea chef de cuisine Curtis Duffy, he said, was to “throw him for a little bit of a loop.” He succeeded.

“I got that and I was like, are you kidding me?” Duffy said. “Because it’s traditionally not an ingredient that we work with. But we’re in an Asian hotel”—the Peninsula is owned by a hotel company that’s based in China—”so we’ve got a lot of Chinese people running around.”

There’s also a Chinese restaurant downstairs from Avenues in the Peninsula: Shanghai Terrace, which specializes in Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes. That’s where Duffy got his beans (they’re also widely available from local Asian markets).

Chinese black beans—not to be confused with the turtle beans you’ll find in your burrito—are soybeans that have been fermented and salted, a process that turns them black. Duffy noted, “they’re earthy, they’re sour, they’re very funky . . . haunting, if you will.

Curtis DuffyCredit: Julia Thiel

“They’re not pleasant to eat” straight up, he added. “They leave an aftertaste in your mouth that sticks with you for a good 20 minutes. And the smell—it smells very . . . funky.”

The beans are usually used in Asian cooking to season savory dishes, often in combination with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. Duffy initially went in that direction.

“We sweated down some garlic and ginger and scallions, and we added the black beans, cooked them down a little more and blended it up, tasted it,” he said. But “we weren’t happy with it. We added some soy sauce and mirin . . . still weren’t happy with it. So I said, ‘Let’s add some sweetness to it and see what it does.’ We added sugar to that same mixture, and it was nice.”

So nice, in fact, that Duffy abandoned his savory dish and made a dessert instead. First he soaked them in several changes of water to get rid of some of their acidity and astringency. He then boiled them in heavy cream, strained it, and used the cream to make a ganache with Venezuelan dark chocolate. That ganache formed the base of an epically complicated dish involving hazelnut cake, chamomile (dried and fresh), huckleberries, stevia, Vietnamese balm, mandarin orange, brown butter powder, and blood orange sorbet.

“The only thing we didn’t do with this dessert was add the actual beans back to it,” Duffy admitted. “We cooked them a few times in simple syrup after they’d been soaked; we did a lot of things that I thought would work, but we failed.”

“It was easier to get that flavor profile from steeping it with the ganache than trying to add the actual bean back to the dessert. . . . Eating it with the beans was not a pleasure. It’s just overpowering.”

The finished dessert, by contrast, was “very subtle.” “The acidity of the citrus brings out the bean flavor, and there’s “enough sugar in the dish to balance it all out.”

Who’s Next?

John des Rosiers of Inovasi, a Lake Bluff restaurant that focuses on local and organic ingredients. Duffy challenged him to build a dish using geraniums.

“Grant throwing me under the bus with the black beans” motivated him to find a challenging ingredient, Duffy said. He uses geraniums often at Avenues—but in the summer, when they usually bloom. And he suspected des Rosiers hasn’t cooked with them before.

As we were finishing up, Duffy checked his phone and started laughing. He showed me a tweet from @JohndesRosiers:

Geraniums in december? @curtisduffy you’re an ass! No worries. Found a blooming plant at the dry cleaners across from inovasi! It’s on!!    

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon


Chinese Black Bean-Chocolate Ganache With Huckleberries, Mandarin Oranges, Stevia, and Vietnamese Balm

Chinese Black Bean Ganache

500 g Ocumare 70% dark chocolate chips

750 g heavy cream

200 g Chinese black beans, soaked and rinsed three times

Bring the cream and beans to a simmer in a small pot; remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes. Strain over the chocolate and mix to emulsify. Transfer to a small container and let the ganache set overnight (which gives the cocoa butter time to crystallize, for better texture).

Cocoa Rocks

280 g butter, softened

170 g sugar

400 g unsweetened cocoa powder

10 g salt

3 egg whites

35 grams finely chopped dried Chinese black beans

In a mixer with a paddle, cream butter and sugar. Add cocoa, beans (optional), and salt until small “rocks” begin to form. Fold in egg whites and place on baking pan. Bake at 300 for 12 minutes.

Brown Butter Powder

100 g brown butter (butter cooked in a skillet, stirring often, until it turns medium brown)

20 g N-Zorbit (tapioca maltodextrin)

In a bowl combine brown butter with N-Zorbit a small amount at a time until a light powder forms.

Brown Butter Cake (aka Hazelnut Cake)

500 g sugar

190 g cream cheese

340 g brown butter

340 g eggs

190 g whole milk

10 g salt

10 g baking powder

500 g cake flour

Cream the sugar, cream cheese, and brown butter in a mixer. Add the eggs slowly. Combine the salt, baking powder, and flour in a separate bowl and slowly add to the mixer, alternating with the milk. Pour batter into two lined 8×10 pans and bake at 300 for 20 minutes or until done. (Duffy sometimes calls this “hazelnut cake”; the hazelnut flavor comes from the brown butter.)

Blood Orange Sorbet

175 g glucose syrup

72 g dextrose powder

8 g sorbet stabilizer

435 g sugar

10 g salt

864 g water

2,000 g blood orange juice

20 g citric acid

In a large pot combine the water, salt, citric acid, stabilizer, and sugars and bring to at least 185. Remove from the heat and chill, then add the blood-orange juice and strain into a Pacojet canister. Freeze in liquid nitrogen to miminize the formation of ice crystals. Spin through one cycle on the Pacojet.

Candied Huckleberries

500 g sugar

500 g water

250 g huckleberries

Peel from two lemons

5 g salt

Bring sugar, water, salt and lemon rind to a boil. Pour over huckleberries and allow to macerate for one day before using.

Mandarin Orange Puree

6 mandarin oranges, washed and quartered

30 g mandarin oil

sugar and salt to taste

Blend on high until very smooth. Season with the sugar and salt and emulsify in the oil. Pass through a fine chinois.

Other Ingredients

Stevia leaves

Vietnamese balm

Fresh chamomile leaves and flowers

Dried chamomile flowers, crushed into powder

Mandarin orange segments


Place a few chunks of cake and several cocoa rocks on a plate. Sprinkle with chamomile powder. Put ganache into a pastry bag and pipe onto the plate. Add several candied huckleberries, a few dime-size dollops of mandarin orange puree, and mandarin segments; top with a couple spoonfuls of brown butter powder and a spoonful of blood- orange sorbet. Garnish with chamomile leaves and flowers, Vietnamese balm, and stevia leaves.