Secret to tasty eggplant – sweating and draining

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.

Eggplant slices in colander

Eggplant slices in colander with salt

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.

Sweated and drained eggplant - check out texture and color difference

Sweated and drained eggplant - check out texture and color difference

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.

weighting down the eggplant - sweating and draining

weighting down the eggplant - sweating and draining

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.

19 comments… add one
  • Stephen Jul 20, 2016

    Sometimes I feel like the colander method is to slow my girlfriend likes to have just Fried eggplant slices , so a quicker method is to sell them and press them into paper towels, this may take a couple times so repeat the process which will waste paper towels but you can see with every round how much water is being extracted

  • leslie james May 17, 2016

    Hi,
    I am Italian and this same method has been passed down for generations in my family. I thought I would share what my Nonna did. She had my Grandpa go get her a few bricks, she covered them in tin foil and used those for pressing. She laid them out on the counter on top of clean dish towels (flour sack kind or paper towels) salted them and covered with more paper towels. Then put the bricks on top.

    • Robbi Jul 11, 2016

      Thank you for your post. My grandmother did the same thing 🙂
      Some people think I’m crazy now-a days when I suggest her helpful hits.

  • Jeff Jan 12, 2016

    Wondering how much sodium is leftover and if there is a salt conscious method to remove the water.

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  • Chris Aug 20, 2015

    Great article and as for the one who says you are repeating yourself, not sure what the problem is, this is the correct way to prepare eggplant and I am doing so right now. Just an hour or two.

  • Drew Aug 3, 2015

    I never thought of weighting the eggplant. It works great.

    I left my sliced eggplant flat on the cutting board, salted it, placed foil on top and then a cookie sheet with a weight on top. It looked funny but they drained all over the counter. Really made a difference!!

    Thanks!!

  • Trish Jul 29, 2015

    we salted and covered and weighted our eggplant slices. We forgot them and left them overnight. In the morning they had turned blue! What happened? Should we cook and eat them?
    Thanks for all your great information!

  • Rayjht Jul 18, 2015

    Ok first let me say thank you for the top. However you kept repeating the same things over and over…..and over.

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  • Eric Borzino Jan 8, 2013

    Eggplant bacon? That sounds remarkable. A mandolin sounds like a good way to get those thin slices to me. Let me know how they turn out!

  • Laura Helms Jan 5, 2013

    I’m planning on making eggplant bacon, do you think that the thin slices (think mandolin) should be okay with the less “aggressive” method?

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