Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weekend Wokking with Eggplant

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I’m very particular about. I’m not a big fan of those oversized specimens often found in the grocery store. There are two reasons. First, they are usually tasteless. Second, the proportion of skin to pulp is wrong—there just isn’t enough skin. The pulp just cooks up to a pile of mush. That may be okay if I’m making a dip or baby food but completely useless when I’m trying to stir-fry. That’s why I stick to the small Thai or long Chinese varieties for Asian cooking.

This eggplant stir-fry is a very popular dish found in Thai restaurants across the US, but I don't remember mom ever making it at home. I'll have to ask her why that is because it turns out to be quite easy to throw together and packs a flavorful punch. And my version is far less oily than what's found in most restaurants.

The key to this dish is the Thai black soy sauce. And just to confuse you, it may also be called "dark soy sauce" or "dark thick soy sauce" or "dark sweet soy sauce". This "dark sweet soy sauce" should not be confused with the "real" sweet soy sauce, which is also dark. LOL

Anyhow, there are two popular brands, Healthy Boy or Dragonfly. I like the Healthy Boy brand. I was only familiar with their mushroom soy sauce, but I've recently discovered they have a whole line of soy sauces available and the ones I've tried are all good. Mom uses the Dragonfly brand. To me it tastes a little too strongly of molasses.

Note: In Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking (see right sidebar), he explains that the best way to prepare Chinese eggplant is to first oil blanch it, which results in an intense and concentrated eggplant flavor. This is a very common practice in Asian restaurants (and is often used with green beans), but I can’t be bothered to do it at home. I find briefly steaming the vegetable to be a little more manageable. Steaming will soften the vegetable a little and cuts back on the stir-frying time. You can decide which you prefer.

Thai Eggplant Stir-fry with Chicken
Serves 3-4
  • 2 long Chinese eggplants, cut lengthwise into quarters and then into 2 to 3 inch segments
  • 3 chicken thighs, roughly hand minced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ bunch Thai sweet basil, leaves only
  • chillies to taste, cut in half lengthwise (optional)
  • 1 ½ tbs Thai black soy sauce
  • 2 tbs thin soy sauce (or 1 tbs regular soy sauce, such as Kikkoman)
  • ½ tsp brown sugar
  • ½ tsp fish sauce + more to adjust flavor to taste
Start by preparing the eggplants. Prepare a steamer and steam the eggplants for about 5 minutes. They should begin to soften but still feel spongy. Remove them from the steamer to cool a bit. You could even steam them the day before and store them in the fridge until ready to use.

Alternatively, the eggplant can be oil blanched. Heat enough oil to deep fry the eggplant. The oil should be hot enough for deep frying, about 350º. Make sure the eggplant is completely dry before introducing them to the oil and do not crowd them. Fry until they get a bit soft (not mushy!), about 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Drain them well.

Mix the minced garlic and minced chicken in a small bowl and set aside. Make the sauce by combining the black soy sauce, thin soy sauce, fish sauce and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve.

Heat a wok over high heat. When it’s hot, add about 2 tbs oil (peanut, grapeseed, or vegetable). When the oil begins to smoke, add the chicken and chillies, if using, and stir-fry until almost done, about 2 minutes. Do not over stir the meat; give it about 20 to 30 seconds between each stir to get a proper sear. Add the eggplant and basil. Again, don’t over stir. Let the eggplant sear a little as well. Add the sauce mix and stir to coat the meat and vegetables. When it’s all heated through, it’s done. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl or plate and serve with steamed jasmine rice.

This is my submission for this month's Weekend Wokking hosted by Palachinka. If you're interested in hosting or want to see who's hosting in the future, check out this page.


Manggy said...

Ah, so dark Thai soy sauce is sweet? Great! I love slightly sweet stir-fries :) (Of course with a little bit of heat.)

It just occurred to me that my main problem with eggplant is not the potential sogginess or bitterness, but the oil slick that usually deposits outside the skin.

Dee said...

Manggy, then you definitely don't want to oil blanch it. :-)

My home version is a lot less oily than restaurant versions. I only used 2 tbs oil and I steamed the eggplant first rather than the oil blanching.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I bet this would be great with Thai eggplants too. I think I've used Healthy Boy oyster sauce, or I remember a bottle with a baby on it?

Jason said...

I'm getting hungry already! I love eggplant, I love dark soy sauce, and I love basil...I think this dish is going to be winner. Thanks for sharing!

Dee said...

WC, I think Thai eggplants are generally one of the more flavorful eggplants and they are perfect for stir-frying in a dish like this.

I've now switched to Healthy boy brand for most of the soy products I use. I use the thin soy sauce in place of regular soy. The mushroom soy sauce is also good. The dark soy sauces (2 kinds that are slightly different). But for oyster sauce I use Maekrua (has a picture of a lady stir-frying on the front. LOL), but that's out of habit. I'm sure the Healthy boy brand is great as well.

Jason, use Thai basil if you can get your hands on it. Has a anise flavor that gives the dish that extra touch!

Susan @ SGCC said...

I just ate dinner and you've got me hungry again! This looks terrific! I've had similar dishes in Thai restaurants and loved them. I even have the right soy sauce! Definitely one to bookmark.

Anonymous said...

I saw Ming Tsai mix soy sauce and brown sugar together and then boiled and reduced that down to a syrup. Would that be a suitable substitute for "dark sweet soy sauce"?

Dee said...

marvin, I'm not sure. It might be. The stuff I use is a bit thicker than regular soy sauce, but not as thick as maple syrup. I imagine boiling it down would concentrate the flavors. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out. I'm too lazy to try myself. LOL

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

Hmm, I haven't seen Thai soy sauce where I shop for Asian ingredients. Interesting. . .

Steaming the eggplant is a great idea. Eggplants soak up so much oil that it's scary! I'll be bookmarking this to make soon. Maybe this will get me out of my eggplant funk.

Dee said...

js, it's true. Eggplant is like a sponge, but I agree that oil blanching does concentrate the flavors nicely. I rarely do it at home though because it's just too much trouble. I leave it to the restaurants.

Marija said...

Darlene, what a fantastic stir-fry! Thank you for sharing the recipe!

Anonymous said...

That's such a lovely photo. The leaf at the back looks like a little winged person leaping for joy at the delicious eggplant he's found! :)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Oh yum! That sounds amazing. I have had eggplant with a pork mince sauce in Chinese restaurants before, but I like this Thai version.