A few weeks ago I taught a Sichuan cooking class at ICE in Manhattan, and one of the many great recipes we did was a Sichuan eggplant recipe I first posted back in October 2008. And I thought, why not revisit Sichuan eggplant — also known as fish-fragrant eggplant — on this blog too? With an aromatic sauce made with chili bean paste, soy sauce, black vinegar, and Sichuan pepper, this dish has proven to be irresistible, even to people who claim to not like eggplant. So why "fish-fragrant", you ask? Well, there's no seafood in the dish, but read on to find out...
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that almost begs for strong, pungent spices and sauces. And one of the most popular vegetable dishes in Sichuan cooking is "fish-fragrant eggplant", an unfortunate literal translation of the Chinese name ( yuxiang qiezi) without the cultural nuance. You see, it doesn't actually smell or taste like fish. Rather, the name refers to method of preparation usually associated with fish in Sichuan cuisine that results in hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors all co-mingling on the plate.
My recipe calls for Sichuan pepper, which may be a bit hard to find, but you can always leave it out or substitute a bit of cayenne pepper. For the sauce I also like to use chili bean paste that you may recall from some other Sichuan dishes like dry-fried green beans and twice-cooked pork. Vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar complete the four-flavors balance, with additional seasonings for background support.
Rather than deep-frying, like many other recipes call for, I like to use just a bit of oil and stir-fry until the outsides are golden brown. This seems to result in a less oily, but still flavorful, eggplant dish. For meatier oomph, you can also add a bit of minced pork and stir-fry it with the garlic and ginger.
Sichuan Eggplant (Fish-Fragrant Eggplant)
- 1 1/2 pounds Asian eggplant
- 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock, or substitute water
- 2 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspo0n cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper, or substitute 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
- Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise, then slice each length into quarters. Cut each quarter in somewhat substantial, but still bite-sized, cubes (about 1 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch cubes).
- Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, sugar, and cornstarch. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl the pan to coat the base and sides. Add the eggplants and stir-fry until outsides become golden brown and insides begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and mix well. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the eggplant to full cook and the sauce to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, plate, and sprinkle scallions on top.
Recipe first posted October 21, 2008. Revised March 31, 2013.