Sichuan Eggplant

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Are eggplants showing up in your local markets yet? They are here, and guest author Garrett has tossed together a classic Chinese dish using long and tender asian eggplants from the farmers market. Enjoy! ~Elise

The actual name for this dish in Sichuan cuisine oddly translates to “Fish-Fragrant” Eggplant. Confusing, as this dish has no fish anywhere in it. You see, in Sichuan cuisine there are 23 complex flavors. These range from red-oil flavor, hot and sour flavor, lychee flavor, to strange flavor, and many others. Fish-Fragrant is one of the most celebrated.

Fish-Fragrant is a combination of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy tastes that come from ginger, garlic, scallions and fermented or pickled chilies. It is so named because these flavors are often used to enhance fish.

Often times in earlier Chinese history, if home cooks were unable to procure fresh fish for meals, they had to make do with older fish that might have had too intense of a fishy taste. The ingredients and tastes that make up the fish-fragrant flavor are all strong and could cover the odors of seafood that wasn’t the most fresh.

Sichuan Eggplant

These days many people can get perfectly fresh fish. However, fish-fragrant flavor is still quite popular. This is especially true in the Sichuan region of China where the native cuisine is known for being molten hot.

We’ve toned the heat of this dish down considerably for the everyday non-Sichuan eater as the original recipe is like swallowing lava. You can practically feel it turn your organs to ash from the inside out. Even if you fancy yourself a talented fire-eater, use only a small amount of the chili bean paste your first try as it is incredibly spicy.

Sichuan Eggplant Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2-4 servings

This recipe calls for asian eggplants, or Japanese eggplants. They are long and thin compared to a European or globe eggplant, and much more tender and delicate. If you can't find them you can substitute globe eggplant, but the dish is really best with the asian eggplant.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs. asian (long and skinny) eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (substitute vegetable stock for vegetarian)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 - 1 1/2 tablespoons chili bean paste*
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed sichuan peppercorns** (optional, but inauthentic without)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 4 scallions, roughly chopped
  • Cilantro for garnish (optional)

*A lot of grocery stores have Asian ingredient aisles now. You should be able to find chili-bean paste, a mixture of preserved chilies mixed with mashed soybeans, there or at any Asian market. (Do not confuse with black bean paste or chili-garlic paste.)

**Sichuan peppercorns are available at some stores and online for quite cheap. They aren't spicy like other peppers but rather have a citrusy flavor and induce a tingly, numbing sensation like a carbonated drink.

Method

1 Begin your mise en place. Quarter the eggplant lengthwise and chop into large batons and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauce and set it aside. In a second bowl, mix together the chili bean paste, garlic, ginger, and sichuan peppercorns and set it aside. In a third bowl, mix together the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and set it aside. Lastly, in a fourth bowl, mix together the scallions and vinegar and set it aside.

2 Place the oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking. Add the eggplant and sauté, allowing it to sit for a few seconds each time you move it to allow it to brown and blister. If the eggplant absorbs all the oil and some pieces don't get any then add a little more oil.

3 Add the chili bean paste, garlic, ginger, and sichuan peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock mixture, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 90 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir together until the sauce thickens a bit. Add the scallions and vinegar and cook for 15 seconds to diffuse their harsh flavors a bit. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

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Garrett McCord

www.vanillagarlic.com

Garrett McCord is a food writer, writing instructor, culinary consultant, freelance food photographer, and recipe developer who shares his enthusiasm for food and the written word through his blog Vanilla Garlic. Garrett's cookbook, co-authored with Stephanie Stiavetti, is Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

More from Garrett

Links:

Sichuan Eggplant, Fish Fragrant Eggplant from Appetite for China

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Showing 4 of 21 Comments

  • Mark

    I made this dish as a contribution to a Chinese New Years banquet – I managed to find all the ingredients and made it exactly as per the recipe. Everybody loved it, and the one ethnic Chinese guy amongst us (most of us are white Australians) said it was the most authentic tasting dish of the night!

    Will definitely reprise :-)

  • Donna Babb

    I have tried SOOOOO many seczhuan eggplant recipes and have found this recipe to be far superior to all others. It has such depth of flavor that is both intense and subtle; and it is super simple in preparation. Thank you.

  • Barry Shell

    Really enjoyed making and eating this today with my family. Thanks so much for posting it. I like the way you included the mise en place section first, and then your timings were very accurate. Nice job! Came out great. I wonder if the people who complained about the peppers were using REAL sichuan pepper corns, or just ordinary pepper? Also, the numbing quality of the sichuan pepper is reduced by cooking as well as the interaction with chilli bean paste and vinegar, so if the recipe is done correctly it’s not very noticeable at all.

  • David

    I love this recipe, but it needs fewer peppercorns. I would say 2/3rd fewer. I would also love a version based on weight, not volume.

  • Taryn

    My husband and I thought this was a delicious dish, a nice foray for us into a new cuisine. Because it was my first time with sichuan peppercorns, I heeded the advice of others on this board and both heated/crushed them and halved the amount. I also removed the black seeds before crushing. The result was perfect – the tingles were noticeable but not overwhelming. We also added coarsely sliced sweet onion with the eggplant, which I thought was an excellent addition. Garrett’s mention of bok choy would also be yummy.

    Thanks, Elise and Garrett!

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