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Bitter gourd recipe- How to braised with chicken and black bean paste

This bitter gourd recipe (Braised bitter gourd with chicken 苦瓜闷鸡) is a classic home-cooked dish hugely popular among the Chinese households in Malaysia.

The bitter gourd recipe is simple to prepare, and best to serve with steamed rice which is the staple of the Asians. Both bitter melon (also called bitter gourd) and chicken has a contrasting flavor. Nevertheless, the bitter notes from the bitter gourd combined seamlessly with the tender chicken after absorbing all the yellow and black bean sauce.

You can make it at home with only a few simple steps.

Let’s dive in and take a look of this braised bitter gourd with chicken recipe.

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Bitter gourd with chicken

Step 1: Marinade the chicken

Wash and cut the chicken

Cut the chicken into small pieces, bone-in. This is how to present the chicken by most of the Chinese. The bone releases extra flavor while braising which is why we keep the bone on. Cut the chicken into small chunks, so that they will not be too large in comparison to the bitter gourd pieces.

However, you can always substitute the chicken chunks with breast meat (boneless) should you prefer.

marinated chicken
Marinate the chicken

The marinade (why is it important? )

Marinate is an essential cooking technique in Chinese cooking. Most of the Chinese cuisine requires the flavor to penetrate into the inner part of the meat.

The reason: There is not enough time for the seasoning to penetrate into the chicken during the brief moment of stir-frying or braising. Marinade the meat will overcome this shortcoming which enables the inner part of the meat is well-seasoned with salt and other flavoring agents.

We use the standard marinade formula, nothing fancy.  Light soy sauceground white pepperShaoxing wine, and cornflour is all you need. You may want to omit the cornflour if you intend to pan-fry the chicken before proceeding to braise (Refer to Step 4). Too much cornflour can cause the chicken to stick onto the wok unless it is well-seasoned or with a non-stick surface.

Marinate for at least half an hour (keep it in the refrigerator is preferred for freshness) should be sufficient for the small chicken chunks.

While we are marinating the chicken, we can get ready the bitter gourd and the seasonings.

Step 2: Cut and blanch the bitter gourd

Bitter gourd cut
Cut the bitter melon into julienne

Cut the bitter gourd

  1. Remove both ends of the bitter gourd.
  2. Cut it crosswise into four to five cm sections.
  3. Cut it lengthwise into two.
  4. Remove the seeds and pith. I scrape them away with a stainless steel spoon, which is a very efficient method. It is advisable to remove them completely as the pith and seeds are more bitter than the flesh.
  5. Cut the bitter gourd into julienne.

The bitterness of the gourd

bitter gourd
Salt helps to remove the bitter compound

Bitter gourd is bitter as the name implies. However, the bitterness is a little too intense in most cases, and we can reduce the bitterness by the following methods:

  1. Remove the pith and the seeds thoroughly. The bitterness from the pith and seeds is more intense than the flesh.
  2. After cutting the bitter gourd, place it in a bowl and add a large teaspoon of salt. Combine well and let it sits for ten minutes.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Place the bitter gourd in the water and blanch for 2 minutes. Then drained.
  4. Salt has the effect of removing the bitterness compound (called alkaloid) through osmosis from the bitter gourd. Blanching will further release this compound from the gourd.

Salt also has the counter bitterness effect on our taste buds, which works better than sugar.

You can check out this article if you like to have more information about the effect of salt related to bitterness.

Step 3: Prepare the seasoning and the aromatics in this bitter gourd recipe

The Aromatics

  1. Cut the ginger into thin slices.
  2. Get a tablespoon of minced garlic.

Strike the balance of the bean paste

black bean paste
Yellow bean paste and black bean paste

The seasoning consists of two main ingredients- yellow bean paste and black bean paste. Both are commercially available although it might be a little challenging to get outside of Asia. You can purchase online from Amazon if you have difficulty to obtain from the local Asian grocery store.

The ration of yellow bean paste to black bean paste is 1:1 in this recipe. You can change the ratio (You can make a variation for this bitter gourd recipe by omitting the yellow bean paste, and double up the black bean paste) if you like. There isn’t a hard and fast rule. Both are savory, so there is no added salt required except the salt for drawing out the bitter compound from the gourd, which is entirely removed during blanching.

Other seasoning ingredients for this bitter gourd recipe

The preparation of the braising liquid is simple. Just add the light soy sauce, oyster sauce, ground white pepper, cornflour, and some water. However, I would like to mention about the cornflour slurry, which is generally added at the final stage of cooking to thicken the sauce.

How about the cornflour slurry?

I have tested in various recipe serve on our menu that the cornflour can actually be incorporated into the braising or stir-frying sauce. The thickening effect is identical to if adding it at the final stage of cooking. We do this because we want to simplify the cooking process, as speedy serving is crucial to the restaurant business. This method also eliminates cause by ‘add by feel’ by different cooks as the amount of cornflour slurry is too small and inconvenient to measure accurately.

Chinese bitter melon with chicken

Step 4: Braise the chicken and bitter gourd

Brown the chicken to bring out the flavor

You can enhance the flavor of the chicken by browning it before proceeding to braise. Ther two way you can do this.

  1. Pan-frying the chicken with some oil in the wok/saucepan until both sides turn slightly brown. I suggest you omit the cornflour in the marinade (or reduce it by half) if you use this method since cornflour can burn quickly and stick to the wok. Alternatively, use more oil to pan-fry the chicken, or use a non-stick pan.
  2. Deep-frying it if you prefer. We can do this in the restaurant as it browns evenly in the deep-fryer. However, I find that this may be inconvenient to do it at home, as you may not want to waste too much oil.
braise bitter gourd
Braise the bitter gourd and chicken until soft

Braise the bitter gourd and chicken

  1. Add some oil to the wok/saucepan. Saute the ginger and garlic until they turn aromatic. Keep the heat low as garlic can burn quickly,
  2. Add the yellow bean paste and black bean paste. Saute over low heat until fragrant.
  3. Add the bitter gourd. Stir-fry briefly until the bean pastes coats the surface of the bitter gourd.
  4. Add the chicken and seasoning sauce. Braise over low heat for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, the bitter gourd should have turned soft. I suggest the minimum time for braising should be twenty minutes to let the seasoning penetrates fully into the chicken.
  5. Add some hot water if the braise starts to get dry.
  6. Do a taste test. Some gourds are more bitter than others. You can add some sugar at this point if it is too bitter, or more bean paste if it is not savory enough
  7. Reduce the liquid to a thick sauce, not watery. It will turn shiny and cling onto the chicken and the bitter gourds.
  8. Now it is ready to serve, best to serve together with steamed rice.

The Bitter Gourd Recipe (with chicken and black bean paste)

bitter gourd recipe

Braised Bitter Gourd with Chicken & Bean Paste

Yield: 2-3 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Marinate Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Braised bitter gourd with chicken (also called bitter melon) is a classic home-cooked dish hugely favorite among the Chinese households in Malaysia.


Marinate (A):

Sauce for braising:(B)


  1. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces, bone-in, skin-off
  2. Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes with Marinate (A).
  3. Cut the ginger into thin slices, and mince 1 tablespoon of garlic.
  4. Cut the bitter gourd lengthwise into half. Then cut it into 5cm section crosswise. Remove the seeds. Cut into julienne.
  5. Mix a teaspoon of salt to the bitter gourd. Wait for at least ten minutes.
  6. Blanch the salted bitter gourd in boiling water for two minutes. Drained.
  7. Place some vegetable oil in the wok. Add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until they turn slightly brown. Remove and set aside.
  8. Add some additional oil into the wok. Saute the ginger and garlic until aromatic. Add the bitter gourd, black bean paste, yellow bean paste, and the braising sauce (B).
  9. Braise for about 20 minutes until the bitter gourd turns soft, and the sauce thickens. Serve.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 2 servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 365Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 118mgSodium: 1089mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 33g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 6/16/2019


Thursday 12th of March 2020

In another bowl, combine all Marinade ingredients and mix well. Coat Marinade mix with chopped chicken and leave in the fridge for at least 30 mins.


Friday 7th of December 2018

Hi Mr Kwan I enjoy all your recipies. They are so clear n precise. I will try your Bitter Gourd chicken and hope it's successfully.

Regards Betsy

KP Kwan

Saturday 8th of December 2018

Thank Betsy for following my work. I what it is clear and is what you like. Do try out the bitter gourd with chicken. Watch the video if in doubt. Thanks. KP Kwan

Patsy Chia

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Thank you for the prompt response, Mr Kwan.

Regards Patsy

Patsy Chia

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Dear Mr Kwan, sorry for the late response but I was away in the last few days. I was able to click the link to watch the subject video. Previously, when you posted a video, you included INSIDE the post something like "Click here for the video." so I had been looking for that small link. I could see there are a group of dishes names in Chinese characters below the instructions of the recipe but I have not been able to click open it to view the video. Maybe due to the setting of my computer. In future, It would be helpful if you would include within the post a small link to click and go directly to the video. I like to watch your videos. Thank you for the patience and time you took to help me, much appreciated.

KP Kwan

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Thank you so much, Patsy. I will do the same as those I posted before so that there will be a link to YouTube in the text too. Have a nice day.

Patsy Chia

Thursday 29th of November 2018

I still cannot find the video, if you do not mind, grateful if you would send me the subject video to my email address"

Thanks a lot.

regards Patsy

KP Kwan

Friday 30th of November 2018

Hi Patsy, Please follow this link to watch it on YouTube :

I can see the video embedded in this post. Please scroll up on this page, and when you see the recipe, the video is below the instruction of the recipe. I can see it here, and if you still do not, please help me by letting me know so that I can investigate. Please click the link below to see my screenshot.


KP Kwan

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