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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fish Fragrant Eggplant...once again!!!

This recipe is a retake, blast-from-the-past, redux, if you may, of a dish that I have been trying to recreate for some time now.  My first encounter with this very intriguingly named dish was at Sichuan House, where they stack it higher than my little molehills effort in the pic above.  I have previously blogged on a version that I cooked up a few months ago.  Check it out at Fish Flavoured Eggplant - This version was tasty, no doubt, but not at all close to the Sichuan House version.  This time around however, armed with the arsenal that is Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty, I think I have hit closer to the mark and I thought I should share the recipe along with a couple of my tweaks to it.
The eggplant in this dish holds up it's crispiness after being deep-fried and the accompanying sauce is not too short of the true Sichuanese taste.  Given that eggplant is my most favourite vegetable...ever, it wont be long before I give this another try after sourcing some authentic Sichuan style Chilli Bean sauce.  The main varieties available contain salted soybeans, but the Sichuan type consists of fermented fava beans.  I will continue hunting, there are plenty of Chinese grocers in Melbourne.
Ingredients, serves 4
2 x Eggplants, cut into large wedges or "fat" chip shapes
1/2 cup x Potato starch or Tapioca starch (I have used cornflour previously but found the tapioca starch really worked well for the crunch that I was looking for)
Oil for deepfrying
1 1/2 tbsp x Chilli bean paste (Lee Kum Kee brand is acceptable but can be salty, adjust to taste and dilute final dish with water if necessary)
3 tsp x Ginger, finely chopped
3 tsp x Garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup x Chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp x Sugar
1/2 tsp x Light soy sauce
1 tsp x cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp x Cold water 
1 1/2 tsp x Chinkiang Chinese Black Vinegar
4 x Spring onions, green parts sliced into fine rings
1 tsp x Sesame oil
Place the eggplant chips on a flat plate and sprinkle about a tablespoon salt over the surface. Leave to stand for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This is to draw out some of the liquid within the vegetable.
Heat the oil in a frypan or wok and allow to reach a good deep frying temperature (about 190 degrees celcius)
Wipe the eggplant pieces with kitchen towel to remove the extracted liquid
Place the tapioca flour (or potato flour) in a clean plastic bag along with the eggplant
Secure the opening and shake well to coat the eggplant in the flour completely 
Carefully fry the eggplant in batches for about five minutes until cooked through and crispy on the outside but not burnt
Remove with a slotted spoon, draining as much oil, and keep warm in a serving dish while you finish the sauce.
For the sauce, heat a wok with two tablespoons of the oil
Stir in the chilli bean paste for 30 seconds followed by the ginger and garlic for another 30 seconds 
Next combine the stock, sugar and soy and add to the dish, add a little salt to taste, if required, bring to a boil
Briskly whisk in the cornflour mixture and continue to stir until the sauce thickens
Now add the vinegar and spring onions and allow to cook for a few seconds  
Finally stir in the sesame oil and remove from the heat 

Pour the sauce over the fried eggplant chips and serve immediately to ensure the eggplants retain some of their crunch
This method with the sauce is listed as an alternative to the original Sichuan recipe in Fuchsia's book. I have tweaked it even further by adding the step of coating with tapioca flour. I prefer the beauty in the crunch of the eggplant when prepared this way, the tapioca gives it the edge, and is an ode to Sichuan House's tower of eggplant.
 The original recipe says to add the non-flour coated, deep-fried eggplant to the wok after the stock, sugar and soy mixture is brought to the boil.  Then it continues with the cornflour slurry, vinegar, spring onions and sesame oil.  I have prepared the dish in this method too, but found that the eggplant becomes far too mushy and the texture feast is missing as everything gets a bit soggy.  I have also had it prepared like so in other Sichuan restaurants but have always gone back to Sichuan House's version that has so much appeal - well for me anyways!!!

And in case you're wondering what is so fishy about a dish called Fish Fragrant Eggplant, which has no fishy ingredients at all, here is a little explanation from the book:- The fish fragrant flavour is one of the 23 flavours of Sichuan and get's its name from the seasonings used in traditional cooking of fish. It has a combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy tastes and is heavily aromatic from the abundance of ginger, garlic and spring onion.  The sauce's orange colour is derived from the base ingredient of Sichuanese chili bean sauce which is also typical in the cooking of fish dishes.  

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