Monday, May 23, 2011

Yu Xiang Qiezi (Fish Fragrance Eggplant)

Yu Xiang Qiezi  (Fish Fragrance Eggplant)

I've often thought that in Chinese tradition, vegetables are executed with elegant simplicity, allowing the natural flavors and textures of the main ingredients to carry the day.  Here is one exeption,  the classic Yu Xiang Qiezi, translated literally to mean, “fish fragrance eggplant.”  Yu Xiang preparations are common in traditional Chinese cooking, especially Yu Xiang Zhu Rou Si, “Fish frangrance pork shreds,”  which we've posted earlier.  This dense, savory, and highly flavored dish features chili paste, sugar and Chinkiang (zhe jiang) vinegar.  Yu Xiang Qiezi is an important vegetarian dish, as eggplant somewhat mimics the hearty tactile qualities of some meats, particularly dark chicken and shredded pork.  It absorbs sauce prodigiously, thus extra liquid will be employed to ensure a moist, flavorful presentation.   The present version of this western province dish is the most traditional, but while in Sichuan in 1998 I had a delicious version of Yu Xiang Qiezi using small, crisp, batter fried wedges of eggplant, lightly tossed in an intense sweet and sour sauce.  (See Tang Cu Qiezi) This unbattered rendition retains more of the natural succulence of the vegetable.
  • 2-3 Quarts of Frying oil in large pot.
  • 2 - 3 medium asian eggplants
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1” x 1” pc of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 rounded tsp chili paste
  • 2 Tab rice wine (or dry sherry)

  • 1 Tab of sugar
  • 1 Tab soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Chinkiang (zhe jiang) vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or lightly salted broth
Thickener and garnish:
  • Cornstarch slurry
  • Sesame oil
  • 1-2 Heaping Tab Red sweet pepper or red chili pepper, shredded
Slowly heat the deep frying oil in large pot.   A deep fry thermometer is very useful.  Also, it is advisable to have a kitchen fire extinguisher nearby, or an open box of bicarbonate of soda in the event the oil boils over and catches fire (editor’s note: by this bit of advice we once again see that Wang is instructing students, not professionals and expects this dish to be made in the home.  Also, see “deep frying” in the Techniques section.)  In the meantime, prepare ingredients in this way: slice eggplants lengthwise into four long wedges, then cut eat wedge lengthwise to create 8 long wedges.  Cut each of these in four equal pieces.  Some recipes may suggest peeling or partially peeling the eggplant.  Though these variants are traditional, I prefer to leave the skin intact, since the texture, color and flavor is excellent.  Mince garlic, ginger and onion and set aside.  Shred sweet red or chili pepper and set aside. Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.  Prepare cornstarch slurry if you do not have any on hand, and set aside.
On medium, increase heat under deep fry oil until it is 350º - 375º F.  If you do not have a thermometer, drop a shred of green onion or sweet pepper into the oil; if it sizzles vigorously, the oil is probably ready.  Lower 1/3 of the eggplant wedges into the oil at a time, to prevent a boil over; you should turn the heat up as soon as the eggplant is in the oil, as their addition has lowered the temperature.
In approximately 3 minutes, the eggplant is done; remove to drain and set aside.
Heat 2 or 3 Tablespoons of peanut oil in your wok until it just begins to smoke, then toss in green onion, garlic, ginger, and chili paste.  Stir fry briefly until these ingredients barely turn color;  splash in wine, toss, then add stirred sauce ingredients.  When this begins to boil, add eggplant and stir gently.  As soon as the sauce boils again, simmer 30 seconds or less, and add cornstarch slurry until sauce thickens.  Plate the dish, garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and a few shreds of red pepper.
You might also want to try this variation: in Sichuan restaurants, some chefs will lightly bread the eggplant slices with egg white and cornstarch, deep fry the pieces, then plate the qiezi, over which is drizzled the finished sauce.

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