This recipe was featured in a travel story on Taipei written by Fred Ferretti and published by Gourmet in January 1993. Served at a hotel called the Imperial Palace, this dish was tested and fine-tuned by Fred’s wife, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, one of my favorite cookbook authors and Chinese cooking experts. (She also happens to be shorter than me by at least an inch and is probably half my weight, but there is nothing small about her talent. She is masterful and I have learned a lot from her.)
This recipe should help you overcome your fear of frying. Something magical happens to eggplant cubes after they are dusted in cornstarch and fried, they become crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. And they become positively ethereal when you add the sauce with the pine nuts. You will really delight your guests with this one.
Makes 6 servings
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 small scallions, white part only, finely chopped
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Asian chile sauce
2 teaspoons Asian (toasted) sesame oil
Combine 2/3 cup cornstarch with the flour in a large paper or resealable plastic bag. Rinse the eggplant, drain and add to the bag in batches. Shake until coated well and transfer to a large bowl.
Heat 1 cup of the oil in a wok or large deep saucepan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add 1 quart of the remaining oil to the oil in the wok and heat over high heat until a deep-fat thermometer reads 375ºF. Add about a third of the eggplant to the hot oil and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Repeat twice to cook the remaining eggplant. Discard the oil in the wok and wipe the wok clean with paper towels.
Combine the stock, sugar, and soy sauce in a small bowl; whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch until it is dissolved.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the wok over high heat until almost smoking. Add the scallions, ginger, garlic, and chile sauce. Cook just until the mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir the soy sauce mixture well and pour it into the scallion mixture. Bring it to a boil, stirring, until thickened and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and pine nuts. Pile the eggplant in a large bowl and pour the sauce over it. Stir well and serve at once.
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