Eggplants are from Mars. These weird yet beautiful and glossy purple vegetables are truly unique. An eggplant’s taste is particularly hard to pinpoint, other than a satisfyingly sweet bitterness. Its texture is chameleonesqe and can range from gooey to spongy to slippery. Over the years, I’ve had some terrible eggplant dishes and it is a shame. These experiences do not override my love for the ingredient, since I know of its potential and grandeur. Yet, for many, these unfortunate eggplant mishaps leave lasting off-putting impressions.
This blog post is to help make sure you never have one of those tragic bad eggplant dishes at home ever again. The trick is to prep eggplants way in advance, by sweating and draining its extra water content. Eggplants contain a lot of moisture, which can ruin any dish. This simple sweating and draining procedure does take time and requires some cooking patience, but its impact on the taste and texture of the eggplant is truly profound. You will want to become a Martian.
Secret to preparing eggplant
How many times have you anxiously awaited a comforting plate of crispy eggplant parmesan and you received a highly disappointing soggy, water pool of a mess? How many times have you prepared at home an easy eggplant pomodoro pasta or eggplant caponata and it came out tasting like a bitter mosh-pit? In both of these sad scenarios, the primary culprit for the excess water and eggplant bitterness are due to the improper sweating and draining of the eggplant.
Sweating and draining eggplant
Every Italian grandma knows, that you must remove the excess water from the eggplant. These vegetables contain a lot of extra moisture. Eliminating this from the eggplant not only dramatically reduces the unwanted wateriness in a dish, but it also enhances the true essence of the eggplant taste. Embedded in this eggplant water content is bitterness. By sweating out the additional moisture, you also remove some of that extra bitterness taste. This leaves the eggplant tasting less so over-the-top bitter, and more sweet and pure.
There are many different ways you can skin this cat. Most recipes call to simply sweat the eggplant by slicing it into rounds, salting them heavily and letting them rest for one to two hours. Afterward, pat off the excess water that the salt helped removed.
I prefer a more aggressive approach to really draining the eggplant clean. I place the slices of eggplant into a colander, which is over a large bowl in order to collect all the run-off juices. I salt the eggplant slices generously and then place a paper towel over them. The paper towel will collect some of the sweating that occurs on the eggplant’s tops. I then place a heavy skillet pan over the eggplant slices in the colander and weigh it down. Moving up to the heavyweights! This extra weight really helps drain and squeeze out all that extra moisture and bitterness.
Rather than sweating/draining the eggplants for one to two hours, I do it for six hours. Every 30 minutes, I flip the eggplant slices and then place the weighted pan back on top. You will be amazed at all the juices that run out of the eggplant. The texture and color of the eggplant will transfigure into softer, browner slices. You can just feel the love.
From here, the possibilities are virtually endless given eggplants versatility. One of my favorite ways to prepare eggplant is in a rigatoni with ricotta salata.