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.
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.
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 sauce, ground white pepper, Shaoxing 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
Cut the bitter gourd
- Remove both ends of the bitter gourd.
- Cut it crosswise into four to five cm sections.
- Cut it lengthwise into two.
- 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.
- Cut the bitter gourd into julienne.
The bitterness of the gourd
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:
- Remove the pith and the seeds thoroughly. The bitterness from the pith and seeds is more intense than the flesh.
- 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.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Place the bitter gourd in the water and blanch for 2 minutes. Then drained.
- 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
- Cut the ginger into thin slices.
- Get a tablespoon of minced garlic.
Strike the balance of the 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 the bitter gourd and chicken
- 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,
- Add the yellow bean paste and black bean paste. Saute over low heat until fragrant.
- Add the bitter gourd. Stir-fry briefly until the bean pastes coats the surface of the bitter gourd.
- 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.
- Add some hot water if the braise starts to get dry.
- 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
- Reduce the liquid to a thick sauce, not watery. It will turn shiny and cling onto the chicken and the bitter gourds.
- Now it is ready to serve, best to serve together with steamed rice.
The Bitter Gourd Recipe (with chicken and black bean paste)
- 250g chicken, bone-on
- 250g bitter gourd, remove seeds, cut julienne
- 10g ginger, cut into slices
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 15g yellow bean paste, about 1 tbsp, also called taucu
- 15g black bean paste, about 1 tbsp
- Marinate (A):
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
Sauce for braising:(B)
- Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces, bone-in, skin-off
- Marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes with Marinate (A).
- Cut the ginger into thin slices, and mince 1 tablespoon of garlic.
- Cut the bitter gourd lengthwise into half. Then cut it into 5cm section crosswise. Remove the seeds. Cut into julienne.
- Mix a teaspoon of salt to the bitter gourd. Wait for at least ten minutes.
- Blanch the salted bitter gourd in boiling water for two minutes. Drained.
- Place some vegetable oil in the wok. Add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until they turn slightly brown. Remove and set aside.
- 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).
- Braise for about 20 minutes until the bitter gourd turns soft, and the sauce thickens. Serve.
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Serving Size:2 servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 365 Total Fat: 17g Saturated Fat: 5g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 10g Cholesterol: 118mg Sodium: 1089mg Carbohydrates: 19g Fiber: 4g Sugar: 6g Protein: 33g