Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Technique: Steamed Vs Fried Eggplants

To anyone who has ever had any stir fried or stewed eggplant, we need to talk. You know that succulent, juicy, and gooey eggplant that is stir fried in that sticky, sweet, and spicy sauce? If you want to continue eating that out in the restaurants, do not ever look up the nutritional value of the dish.

All eggplants are essentially fried. The odd texture, anatomy, and make up of an eggplant makes it quite difficult to deal with in the kitchen. Under cooked? It probably tastes like cardboard with a stringent texture. Over cooked? Most likely burnt or turned into a complete slop. Fried eggplants are able to keep a juicy interior due to frying, texture because of the speed of cooking, and flavor because of the addition of oil. The only problem is that eggplants soak up oil like a dry sponge absorbing water for the first time. It's as if there was some black hole of oil absorbing gravity in each eggplant!

If I said there was a way to enjoy the same beloved eggplant texture and flavor without bathing it in fats, would you believe me? Oh yes, a healthier, faster, and simpler alternative exists out there fellow friends. We need to learn about steamed eggplants.

Selecting The Right Eggplant

Behold, freshly diced eggplants, ready to saute in delicious sauce. These are Male Japanese Eggplants ready for the steamer.

Hold on...
Male, Japanese...Eggplants? Not only do I hit the gender card, but a racial one too?

First off, eggplants actually have genders. Female eggplants generally contain more seed pods than the male variant. The seed pods actually have a sticky texture to them when cooked, making sauces more viscous and full bodied. But often times, we don't want seeds in our eggplants! This is where the male eggplants shine. They generally contain less seeds and contain more flesh!

To help discern males from females, I suggest watching Chef John's Baba Ghanoush video. He does a great job and explaining and displaying the above said properties.

Eggplants also differ from the regions in which they are grown in. Essentially, different strains of the same crop. The traditional "Eggplant" is actually quite large. Because of this size, roasting them whole often leaves you with an overcooked exterior. I'd usually slice these to mirror tomato or zucchini slices when making ratatouille or eggplant parmesan. Other popular variants include Italian and Japanese eggplants, which tend to be more slim, firm, and textured. These are my personal favorite! Chinese eggplants are somewhere in the limbo area for my own personal tastes. I don't have any real opinion about them, which can be considered good nor bad.

Steaming Your Eggplants

You're going to want to steam your eggplants for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the texture that you're looking to achieve. If you're making a flavorful stew, I suggest a 10 minute steam, followed by slow simmering to finish them off. This allows them to soak up all of the flavors of your stew!

Alternatively, you can roast your eggplants. This requires up to 45 minutes of your time, as well as the addition of olive oil, so I'd only consider this option when making a full set of roasted vegetables. Of course, this steaming technique also limits what you can do with it, like above said eggplant parmesan.

There's nothing more to say about the subject but to give it a try and make some delicious and healthy eggplants at home! I love putting it into curry, stews, and casseroles!