Sichuan Style "Fish-Fragrant" Eggplant

Despite the name, there is no trace of fish in this delicious dish. Originating from the Sichuan province in China, "Fish-Fragrant" describes a flavor profile that was originally used in preparing fish dishes from the region. Now these pickled chilis, fermented bean paste, green onions, garlic, ginger, and punchy spice blend are used to season vegetables, like this eggplant, too.
  • 3 Chinese eggplants (about 1 1/4 lb.), halved lengthwise and cut into thick diagonal strips
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Canola oil
  • 1 tsp. ground Sichuan peppercorn (optional)
  • 6 to 12 dried red chilis (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped pickled chili, sambal oelek, or freshly sliced Thai chilis
  • 3 tbsp. fermented chili bean paste
  • 1 head garlic, minced, divided
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Chinese black vinegar 
  • 4 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. water or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • In a large bowl, toss eggplant evenly with salt. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, then gently squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Transfer to a dry bowl or sheet tray, then add cornstarch and toss to coat eggplant evenly.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, heat skillet for 1 minute, then heat 2 tablespoons oil until it starts to smoke slightly. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, fry eggplant until lightly golden on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Repeat with remaining eggplants, adding more oil as necessary if pan begins to run dry.
  • Return empty skillet to medium-low heat and add 2 more tablespoons oil. Add Sichuan peppercorn, chilis, bean paste, half the garlic, ginger, white pepper, and half the green onions. Stirring constantly, cook until fragrant and garlic is barely golden, about 1 minute. 
  • Return eggplants to skillet. Pour in soy sauce, vinegars, sugar, MSG (if using), and water or broth, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens and becomes glossy. Stir in sesame oil, remaining garlic, and remaining green onions in the final minute of cooking.