Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Fish-fragrant Aubergines

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that "Fish-fragrant" (yu xiang) is one of the classic flavour combinations of Sichuanese cookery, rather than being so-called because of any inherent fishiness in either flavour or aroma. The flavours work perfectly with aubergines and this is one of my very favourite ways to cook and eat them: addictively good.

If at all possible try and get hold of some Chinese / Oriental aubergines which are slimmer and often longer than the more common Mediterranean sort. You would need a good handful and there would be no need to salt them, although if the latter is all you can get (as it was here) they will work perfectly well.

As ever, when I cook Sichuanese food, this is adapted from a Fuchsia Dunlop recipe: and I’ve said it before but will say it again, do seek out her books as they are brilliant.

Fish-fragrant Aubergines
serves 2-3

2 aubergines (about 600-700g)
groundnut oil
1½ tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
150ml weak chicken or vegetable stock
1½ tsp caster sugar
½ tsp light soy sauce
¾ tsp potato flour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
4 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1 tsp sesame oil

Slice the aubergines in half lengthwise and then crosswise. Chop each quarter lengthwise into 3 or 4 evenly sliced chunks. Arrange the pieces as far as possible in an even layer on a plate and then sprinkle with 1½ tsp of salt. Leave aside for 30 minutes.

In a wok, heat a couple of tablespoons of groundnut oil until it is just at smoking point then shallow fry the aubergines in batches until soft within and slightly golden on the outside.

Seat each batch aside to drain on kitchen paper.

Return the wok to a high flame with extra oil if necessary (you need about 2-3tbsp in the wok).

Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for about 20 seconds until the oil is red and fragrant; then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir-fry for another 20-30 seconds until they are fragrant also. Be very careful not to burn anything in the wok: take it off the heat if needs be.

Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Season with salt to taste, if necessary (unlikely).

Add the aubergines back to the wok and carefully stir into the sauce and let simmer gently for a few minutes to absorb some of the flavours. Sprinkle the potato flour mixture over the aubergines and stir in gently to thicken the sauce.

Stir in the vinegar and spring onion greens and simmer for about 30 seconds until the onions have lost their rawness.

Finally, remove the wok from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve immediately over plain white rice.

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