Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sichuan Eggplant

When I was visiting my friends Anna and Justin in Madison, WI last month we went to a Sichuan Chinese restaurant called Fugu Asian. As a spoiled New Yorker, I was shocked to find such good Chinese food so far from the East Coast (though the Chinese food in DC's Chinatown is remarkably underwhelming). Fugu had some amazing and highly authentic dishes. In fact some of the dishes on the menu were far too authentic for me to actually try: ox tongue, pork kidney, pork intestine, intestine in hot pot. And that was just on the menu that had been translated into English.


Anna's already talked a good deal about Fugu on her blog, Dining and Opining, so I won't go into too much more detail on it. My favorite of the various dishes we ordered was eggplant in garlic sauce, also known as Sichuan eggplant. This was an amazingly dish, with a very unique flavor that Anna and Justin informed me was Sichuan peppercorn. This is the description wikipedia offers for Sichuan peppercorn: "Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like black or white pepper, or chili peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth (caused by its 3% of hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) that sets the stage for hot spices."

You should be able to find Sichuan pepper at an Asian markets or possibly a very well-stocked supermarket. After not finding them at Harris Teeter and Bangkok 54, I lucked out and found some at the aptly titled Oriental Supermarket on Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA.  They had a great selection of hard to find ingredients and the staff was very helpful.

After searching through a bunch of recipes online I settled on a version from appetiteforchina.com, though I added a bit more garlic and Sichuan pepper. It wasn't as good as Fugu's version, but it was very good. The Sichuan pepper is a really unique flavor and chili bean paste gave it a good kick. I may have cut the eggplant chunks a bit too small, so the texture wasn't quite perfect. This will definitely be in my dinner rotation in the future.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds Asian eggplant
2 tablespoons chicken 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 (I upped this to 5 cloves)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (I upped this to 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish


Directions

1. 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).
2. Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, chili bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, and sugar. Set aside.
3. 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.
4. Add the garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. 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.


The Results

2 comments:

  1. Oh man, that looks delicious. I am so trying this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. :) So happy to share Fugu as an inspiration!

    ReplyDelete