Monday, October 8, 2012

Fish-Fragrant Eggplants (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)

It occurred to me recently that we have been remiss lately by cooking too much American and European food to the exclusion of Asian food.  We have made a few Asian dishes that haven't made it to the blog, so the dearth of Asian food isn't quite as extreme as it appears.  But I can't think of the last Chinese dish we made at the apartment.  Actually, that's a lie.  We made stir-fry a few weeks ago.  And I think that was it.  So I am determined to consciously tweak our menu planning for the next few weeks to incorporate more Asian meals and flavors.  This eggplant is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes.  I love yu xiang qie zi.  It combines a lot of the pungent and spicy flavors from Sichuan province that I love.  And before I go any further, I should explain that Fish-Fragrant Eggplant doesn't actually contain any fish.  Fish-fragrant eggplant is called "fish-fragrant" because it uses the sauce and flavorings typically used for cooking fish.  As a side note, when I came back from China I thought the translation was "fish-taste eggplant" until my mother corrected me.  Oops.  So this isn't the best version of yu xiang qie zi that I have ever tasted, but it is a really nice version.  I told Alex it was a little salty for me, but he disagreed.  As always, Alex likes things a little saltier than I do.  Alex also chopped the eggplant the wrong way.  I tried to explain it to him over the phone that the eggplant should be cut in batons, but we ended up with half-moons of eggplant instead.  Another oops.  The batons tend to cook a little more evenly and get all melty and delicious.  But the think chunks of eggplant don't cook as evenly and some pieces weren't as tender as I would have liked - some of the skins verged on tough.  But I thought it was a pretty successful first attempt.  I have had many restaurant versions that were worse than our very first attempt at the dish so I really can't complain.

Recipe after the jump!

Fish-Fragrant Eggplants (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)
Adapted from Land of Plenty
By Fuchsia Dunlop

2 medium Japanese eggplants, quartered lengthwise and then chopped into 2-3-inch batons
peanut oil
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuanese chili bean paste
3 tsp fresh ginger, minced
3 tsp garlic, minced
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy
1 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
2 tsp Chinkiang or black vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tsp sesame oil

Sprinkle eggplant chunks with 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt and leave it on for 30 minutes to draw out some of the juices.  Heat a wok over high heat and add 3 tbsp peanut oil.  Once the oil is hot, add eggplants in batches and stir-fry until golden on the outside and beginning to soften.  Once each batch of eggplant is done, remove the eggplant and drain on paper towels.  If the wok looks dry at any point, drizzle in more oil.

Add 1 tbsp peanut oil to the wok.  Add chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant, about 20 seconds.  Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20-30 seconds.  Add stock, sugar and soy sauce.  Mix well.  Once the sauce begins to simmer, return the eggplant to the wok.  Simmer gently for a few minutes.  Add cornstarch mixture and stir gently to thicken.  After sauce has thickened, stir in vinegar and scallions.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil.

Serve with rice.

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