If you are going to serve fried eggplant with your antipasto, make it the best fried eggplant it can be! Believe me, your guests will appreciate it!
I have had dinner guests tell me they don’t even like eggplant but they love mine. Well, there is a reason for that. I take the time to treat my eggplant, dress it properly, use the right oil at the right temp, and….serving it immediately while it’s warm and crispy really helps!!
This is a great antipasto item that I like to serve with my homemade roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella. There is nothing original about these antipasto items. These are standard Italian items people are used to having all the time and quite frankly maybe bored with them by now. Especially in the NY/NJ area. But!…..when you make these staple items like people never had them before, it’s a whole new ball game. Actually, it’s like a new dish for your guests.
So let’s begin . . .
At the market, get yourself a nice plump healthy looking eggplant. The most common eggplant is simply “American” or “Globe.” There are some really cool different types of eggplant out there. But for this dish, I like the above.
After washing your eggplant in cold water, slice a good couple of inches off the narrow top where the stem is attached and then just a sliver on the bottom end.
Have a roll of white paper towels with no print on them ready. A large cutting board and some heavy items to put on top of the cutting board will also be needed (psst, we will be pressing the eggplant).
Place a double layer of paper towels on a clean countertop/prep area about the size of your largest cutting board. Do not take the skin off the eggplant. Slice the eggplant across the width, not length-wise. We want to make perfect eggplant circles. White on the inside with a beautiful black ring around it, hence the skin. We are making our eggplant slices at least ¼” thick. Ideally it’s between ¼” and ½.” This may seem too thick, but, the treatment process is going to drain a lot of water out and they will shrink. They will even shrink more when we fry them.
Lay out the eggplant in uniform columns and rows on top of the paper towels then salt them with kosher salt. Cover with another double layer of paper towels, place eggplant pieces on top in the same fashion as before and continue until finished. Sprinkle salt on every layer. Just a pinch on each piece. Try to spread the salt out best you can.
When finished. Make sure you end with a double layer of paper towels on top. Place a large cutting board on top of your prepped eggplant slices. Then, place whatever heavy items you can find on top of the cutting board so weight presses down on the eggplant. I use cast iron pans with tomato cans inside of them. Whatever, put your blender on there with cans of olive oil. Just get some good weight on that cutting board.
The ideal time for doing this is early in the morning so they are ready to fry at dinner time. Approximately 6-8 hours were talking about here.
Why are we doing this?
Like most veggies, eggplant is loaded with water and it also has a subtle bitterness to it. Here, we are eliminating both. In addition, we are starting out with a relatively thick slice of eggplant that will be reduced through a dehydration process of sorts. This will bump up the natural flavor of the eggplant because that’s what dehydration does. It intensifies the flavor.
This is the beauty of Italian cooking. We find techniques to enhance the flavor of a vegetable without a bunch of seasoning. Another benefit is that we will not be putting a piece of eggplant loaded with water into the frying pan. That’s just a mess!!! If done correctly, the eggplant will look like pieces of souple leather and will be a pleasure to fry.
Next. . .
In a large saute pan, pour in enough canola oil to create at least ½” depth of oil. And yes, we are using canola oil. I was brought up using very light olive oil for frying and heavy extra virgin olive oil for salads and as an ingredient in soups and savory dishes. However, if you want to fry something right, you have to use an oil with a higher smoke point than olive oil. That’s just how it is. This is “arguable” so to speak and I can dedicate a whole other post on this. But for now, this is how I do it.
Get the temperature of the canola oil up to about 350-375 range. If you don’t have a thermometer, just get the oil hot enough that when you drop in a pinch of breadcrumbs, they instantly react and brown (not burn). When frying on the stovetop you have to constantly tweak the flame. Because you will be dropping in partially dehydrated eggplant at room temp, you won’t have to tweak too much. I instinctively raise the flame just before dropping the eggplant in because the temperature of the eggplant brings down the temperature of the oil. And, when the temperature of the oil drops, well . . . we get oil bombs instead of beautifully fried eggplant. When using cast iron hardly any tweaking is required. This is because once hot, cast iron relentlessly radiates heat. The eggplant is no match for it and the oil remains hot. Just one of the many awesome benefits of cast iron. Did I mention I love cast iron?
Breading the eggplant.
This is where I differ from most. Eggplant is the name of the dish, eggplant is the main ingredient, and eggplant is what we want to taste. Right? So, I prefer to put just a touch of breadcrumb on the eggplant to satisfy our textural desires and that’s it! The old-school way of doing this is just a little flower. I believe my grandmother used just a little finely ground cornmeal or something like that. But to load up on the breadcrumbs after we took the time to enhance the eggplant? I don’t think so. I want to eat and taste eggplant. Not fried breadcrumbs. And don’t get me started with putting panko on these!! No! And I don’t want to taste eggs either so we are not egging them.
Line up three shallow bowls on the counter. In the first one put some all-purpose flour. The second one is whole milk. And the third, breadcrumbs. Preferably unseasoned.
Take a piece of eggplant and coat with flour. Just kind of press it on one side, flip it and do the same. It may look like not much flour is sticking to it and that’s fine. Shake off any excess flour and then give it a very quick dip in the milk. Let milk drip off completely then give it a very light dusting of bread crumbs. Just a real quick pat on each side then shake to get rid of any extra bread crumbs. Now it’s ready for the oil.
With a pair of long metal tongs, drop the eggplant in the oil. When it gets to be a nice golden brown color on the bottom flip it. Typically it’s just a couple of minutes on each side.
When your eggplant is golden brown, remove it from the oil and place it on a wire rack semi-vertical to drain. This is the ideal way to drain. Placing them flat directly onto paper towels will make them soggy because heat is being trapped underneath. If you do not have a slanted drying rack (most people do not, neither do I, lol!!) do what I do and crumple up some paper towels or better yet paper bags into loose large balls. Then kind of pull them apart a bit and put them on the counter or a tray. This creates an uneven surface underneath to allow air to flow so your eggplant remains crispy. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Plate on our favorite platter, sprinkle with some salt garnish with fresh Italian parsley and serve.
If done correctly, your guests will enjoy perfect crispy eggplant with a warm, creamy, flavorful inside.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Thank you for visiting my blog!
Fresh parsley for garnish
You will need . . .
Large cutting board
Large serving platter