As a curious cook and unrequited lover of eggplant, I search for ways to master this textural oddity. Most efforts provided a suitable dish, but I never truly like the mushy texture most recipes yield. Other than eggplant parmesan, I have been underwhelmed until I came across this thousands-year-old Chinese method. It goes against reason, but braising for 30 minutes, eggplant becomes silken and flavored by the marinade, which then gets cooked down into a sauce. I have succeeded with other marinades and am happy to share these two beauties.
Choose Asian eggplants, they provide the best shape and are almost seedless.
The key to success is slice them to provide the most skin per slice [see below]. Then, once in the pan, do not move them through the whole braising time, as they are easily bruised.
Chinese and Italian Versions
The result is a saucy velvety dish served over rice or noodles
L: Served over Pad Thai Noodles R: Served over Wheat Noodles with Bratwurst and Gomasio
Chinese Braised Eggplant Serves 3-4
INGREDIENTS: Chili bean paste* is a Chinese spicy paste that can be substituted with hot sauce, harissa, gochujang, or other spicy condiment, as this dish is balanced for some heat.
- eggplants – 2, large Asian, sliced
- garlic – 2 tsp, minced
- ginger – 1 TBS, minced
- oil – 3 TBS, neutral
- Chinese wine – 1/4 cup, [Shaoxing], or dry sherry
- water – 2 cups
- soy sauce – 2 TBS
- sugar – 1 tsp
- potato starch – 1 TBS, [or corn starch]
- chili bean paste* – 1 to 3 tsp., [to taste] or other spicy spice you might have
- scallions, minced [or Thai basil]
- toasted sesame oil – just a drizzle
- Slice the eggplants into thirds across the diameter, then stand up and slice in half, then lay back down and slice into thirds as shown. This yields about 3-inch planks, perfect for braising
- Prepare the garlic, and ginger
- Make the sauce
- Choose the largest skillet you have so the eggplant will braise in a single layer
- Heat the skillet and add the oil, garlic, and ginger; sauté for a minute
- Lay in the eggplant and pour in the sauce
- Cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer for 15 minutes.
- Uncover and turn heat up to medium to produce a good simmer and reduce sauce until thickened, about 13-15 more minutes. If needed, gently shake the skillet to sauce the top of the eggplant at this point
- Garnish with scallions and toasted sesame oil, and serve over rice or noodles
ADDITION: Meat or cooked beans can make this a main course
To expand this into a meaty dish, sauté 8 oz. of ground pork, beef, or poultry at step 5, then remove the meat to be added back at step 8
Italian Braised Eggplant Serves 3-4
- olive oil – 2 TBS
- garlic – 1 tsp., minced
- onion – 1/2 cup, minced
- fennel – [optional], 1/4 cup, minced
- mushrooms – 1 cup, sliced
- eggplants – 2, Asian type, sliced as pictured above
- red pepper flakes – 1/2 tsp or to taste
- salt – 1/2 tsp
- pepper – 1/4 tsp
- oregano – 1/2 tsp dried or 1-1/2 tsp fresh, or marjoram
- water or stock – 2 cups
- dry sherry – 1/4 cup, or marsala, or madeira
- potato starch – 1 TBS
- Parsley or chives for garnish
- In a large skillet [as big as you can muster], sauté the garlic, onion, fennel, mushrooms, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper until softened
- Lay in the eggplant in a single layer and pour in the marinade; bring to a simmer and cover
- Don’t bother the eggplant once they are in the pan
- Braise, covered, for 15 minutes, then uncover and raise heat to a healthy simmer
- Cook about 10-15 minutes, until sauce reduces and thickens
As a curious cook, try other variations. Consider 2 cups of liquid to braise, along with some aromatics, spices, herbs, spirits, and condiments that will slowly reduce into a sauce.
Now that I love the texture, I found another braised eggplant dish from Greece that will be tested. I’m sure I can create Braised Eggplant Teriyaki, too. This is what curious cooking is all about!
Recipes by B. Hettig
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