Monday, January 25, 2010

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto: Fuchsia Dunlop's Fish Fragrant Eggplants

I am currently obsessed with Fuchsia Dunlop's wonderful Sichuanese cookbook "Land of Plenty." Like me, Dunlop actually spent some significant time living in China - I in Suzhou and Shanghai, she in Chengdu at completely opposite ends of the country - so I find it very interesting that she and I both fell in love with the same dish; yu xiang qiezi or fish fragrant eggplants.

The irony is that there is in fact no fish anywhere in this dish, it is merely a Sichuanese flavor profile. It's a wonderful blend of salty, sweet, spicy and sour which many areas in Asia adore - especially the Chinese with their sense of balance. I made this last night and it is amazing! I will admit that my favorite version in Shanghai was sweeter than Dunlop's and included ground pork, however the Shanghainese love sweeter food so I think this was just an example of the changing landscape of Chinese cuisine adapting to different areas of the country. My own tiny piece of Sichuan in Shanghai!  You can find the recipe below in Dunlap's 2003 cookbook, Land of Plenty.  A link to the original recipe can be found here.

1 1/3 - 1 2/3lbs Asian eggplants (you can use regular, but you will have to salt them and let sit for 30 mins to draw out moisture. With Asian you can chop and go)
salt (if needed)
peanut or veg oil for deep frying
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuanese chili bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped ginger (I only put 2 tsp as I'm not a huge fan of ginger)
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 1/3 tsp cornstarch with 1 tbsp cold water
1 1/2 tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
4 green onion chopped thin - green parts only
1 tsp sesame oil

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and then in 2-3 inch sections. Heat oil for deepfrying in your wok to 350-400F (it will just be beginning to smoke). Add eggplants in batches and deep fry 3-4 minutes until just turning golden and soft. Drain each batch on a paper towel.

Drain off oil save 2-3 tbsp oil. Add chili bean paste and stir fry about 20 seconds. Add ginger and garlic; stir fry another 20-30 seconds being careful not to burn the mix. Add stock, suger and soy mixing well. If you need salt add it now.

Add the drained eggplants and simmer a few minutes to absorb the flavors. Spinkle cornstarch and water mix over to thicken, then add vinegar and green onions; cooking just until onions are no longer so raw. Remove from the heat, stir in sesame oil and serve.

I made some nice basmati rice to go with this and drank a gorgeous white beer from Toronto's own Mill Street Brewery called "Wit" that has some nice citrus flavors to it which helped cut the richness of this dish. I am completely obsessed with "Land of Plenty." Definately my best cookbook buy in a very long time. I can't be in China right now, but Fuchsia Dunlop and her wonderful recipes allow me to travel there any night of the week at my table!



  1. This looks great. A couple ingredient questions: What's in Sichuanese chili bean paste? There are so many chili and chili bean pastes out there, and I wonder if I might already have an appropriate one. Also, are all black vinegars the same? I have a bottle, but am not sure if it's the be-all-end-all of black vinegar or not.

  2. Hi Robin!

    Great question! I had much the same debate when making this dish. As long as you use dark Chinese vinegar that you like, I think you will be fine. The chili bean paste I used was alternately called Chili Bean Sauce by Lee Kum Kee (Douban Jiang or toban djan), but Dunlop recommends a sauce with fava beans in it so I'm not sure mine was "right" but it all worked out well in the end!

    Best of luck!


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