Fish fragrant eggplant is just one of those classic dishes in Chinese cuisine. It can be found all over China and Taiwan, sometimes served with minced pork and Sichuan peppercorns, sometimes with pickled mustard tubers and sesame oil... But the base is always the same. Garlic, ginger, and green onion is what makes up the "fish" fragrance, which makes no sense at all, but there you have it.
I've always been super afraid of cooking this dish because it really is so good when done right, and it can be completely overcooked or greasy or slimy if done wrong. Also, my mother in-law will not hesitate even for a second to tell me I completely ruined the cuisine of her motherland. That being said, when she showed me how it was done, I couldn't even believe how simple it was! The eggplant is treated the same way we would treat it in Italian cooking, the flavors are built up using the same technique as would any saucy French recipe, the textures are surprisingly familiar so the appropriate done-ness at different phases of the cooking process are easily recognizable. I prefer the spicier versions I've had, so this recipe includes some spicy fermented chili paste. I also have thoroughly enjoyed those occasions on which the sauce was super sweet, but the Chinese eggplants in southern California tend to be super sweet on their own, so this recipe calls for slightly less sugar than usual. I hope you guys like it!
Butter Count: It's Chinese, so Frying Oil
3 or 4 Chinese eggplant
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 Tbsp Dou Ban Jiang*
1 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
2/3 cup chicken stock or water
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch swirled into 1 Tbsp cold water
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
4 Tbsp green onion, thinly sliced
*Dou Ban Jiang is a Sichuanese chili bean paste, 豆瓣醬 in Chinese, readily available at any Asian supermarket.
1. Slice the eggplants into spears. Toss the eggplant spears in salt and leave them in a colander over the sink for about 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a wok until when a piece of minced ginger is added to it, it sizzles. Add the eggplant to the oil in batches. Fry about 4 minutes for the beginning batches and about 3 minutes for the final batches. Transfer the cooked eggplant to paper towels to drain.
3. Carefully drain the oil from the wok and wipe it out with a towel. Add about 3 Tbsp more oil to the wok and swirl it around over medium heat. Add the Dou Ban Jiang and stir it around until it is super red, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and ginger and heat until fragrant, being careful not to burn.
4. Add the chicken stock and sugar, scraping up all of the wok ingredients with a wooden spoon to incorporate fully. Add the eggplant and toss to combine. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir well. Cook about 1 or 2 minutes until the sauce has thickened. You want it thickened to the point where it looks wet but not oily.
5. Add the vinegar and green onion, toss a few times, and transfer to a plate to prevent the sauce from becoming super sticky. Serve with rice!