spicy szechuan eggplant

spicy szechuan eggplant [ ]

When you hear the name “fish fragrant eggplant,” what do you think of?

I think of fish, certainly – probably some sort of fish-sauce or dried-fish laced eggplant dish. This is why I’ve chosen to call this recipe here “spicy szechuan eggplant.” The original name is indeed “fish fragrant eggplant,” even though it contains no fish, no fish sauce, no fish-related anything.

It turns out the only reason it is called “fish fragrant” is because this delicious, tangy and spicy sauce was often used for cooking fish and seafood. Here, it is draped generously over lightly fried eggplant. I don’t have a thermometer or any sort of deep, heavy cooking vessel, so I shy away from deep frying, and for those of you like me, pan-frying will do the trick. But however you cook your eggplant, the star of the dish is really the sauce; it is so flavorful with so little effort. I think the reason for this is the two heavy-hitter ingredients that you may need to find at your local Asian grocer: chinkiang vinegar and chinese chili bean sauce. I have them pictured below so you can have an idea of what to look for.

spicy szechuan eggplant [ ]

I first heard of this dish thanks to Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton’s podcast Spilled Milk, where they waxed poetic about the recipe from Fuschia Dunlop’s book, Every Grain of Rice. It was the last little push I needed to make my way to the (now 5-minute drive away!) Chinese grocery and get the necessary ingredients… of course stopping along the way to get some stuff for my favorite Chinese fried rice, as well.

In any case, this dish is wonderful: beautifully but not painfully spicy, fresh vegetables but hearty flavor, and my new favorite way to eat eggplant.

spicy szechuan eggplant [ ]

Spicy Szechuan Eggplant
a.k.a Fish Fragrant Eggplant
Adapted slightly from Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop

Serves 4 as a side-dish (or 2 who want a big side-dish)

1 1/4 lbs (600g) eggplant, cut into evenly sized ~1/2 inch batons
Vegetable oil for deep-frying or pan frying
1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuanese chilli bean paste (see photo in post for details)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2/3 cup (150ml) chicken stock (vegetable stock if you want vegetarian)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (see photo in post for details)
3 finely sliced green onions to finish

Sprinkle eggplant batons with a few pinches of salt, mix well, and leave to rest in a colander for at least 30 minutes to drain. This is said to help rid the eggplants of bitterness.

If you want to deep fry your eggplant: In a wok or large nonstick skillet, heat vegetable oil for deep-frying to 350°F (180˚C). Add the eggplant in batches and deep-fry for three to four minutes until slightly golden. Remove and drain on paper towels.

If you want to pan fry your eggplant: over medium-high eat, coat a large nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. When oil is heated, add eggplant and fry each side until golden brown, taking care not to burn the eggplant. Remove and set aside.

Return your wok or skillet to a medium flame, and when hot again, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Next, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red, fragrant, and completely mixed with the chili bean paste. Add ginger and garlic and stir frequently for about a minute without burning any of the seasonings (burnt garlic is no good! Just a gentle sizzle is necessary).

Next stir in the chicken stock and sugar and mix well. Season with salt to taste if necessary – I found that after all of these additions I did not need salt. Add back in the eggplant allow to simmer gently for about 1 minute, taking on the flavors of the sauce. Stir the corn starch and water mixture and pour over the eggplant mixture, thickening the sauce. Finally, add in the chinkiang vinegar, stir, and finish with fresh chopped green onions to serve.


I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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Kara Bout It