The more I made it, the more I changed aspects of the dish, adding Sichuan peppercorns to get that almost-metallic numbness. I also upped the vinegar aspect and discovered these amazing pickled Sichuan chillis through Josh, which perks the dish up and adds a fiery punch in the gob. I bought them at See Woo on Lisle Street.
This time, shock horror, I vegetarianised the dish, substituting minced pork with deep fried tofu puffs and shiitake mushrooms. Don't feel like you should follow my madness though; it is, undeniably, better with pork.
Traditionally and in restaurants, the aubergines are deep fried. If you've ever deep fried aubergine, you'll know that it soaks up the oil like a very thirsty sponge. I usually shallow fry the slices before they go in the sauce instead, as it eases my conscience and produces an overall less greasy dish. You will be rewarded with soft, silky aubergines in a fire pit of spongy tofu puffs. A most excellent, sweat-inducing dish.
Fish Fragrant Aubergines
1 large aubergine
8 dried mushrooms shiitake
15 deep fried tofu puffs (or use 80gr minced pork)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tbsp chilli bean paste (I use this one, available at Chinese supermarkets)
1 tsp light soy sauce (or 1 tsp of the pickled chillis above - not both as it's too salty)
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
3 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour with water to mix
1 tsp sesame oil
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Boil 200ml of water and leave the mushrooms to soak. Slice the aubergine up into thick fingers. Heat some oil in a non stick pan and fry on both sides until browned. Set aside. In a dry pan, toast the Sichuan peppercorns and grind to a fine powder.
In a jug, add the cooking wine, soy sauces, vinegar and sugar and give it a good stir. Remove the mushrooms and slice in half, discarding the stalk. Sieve and reserve the mushroom water. Slice the tofu puffs in half.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and add the ginger and garlic. Stir fry until fragrant. Add the chilli bean paste and stir to amalgamate. Add the aubergine slices and tofu puffs stirring so that it all gets a good coating, and then throw the mushrooms in. Add the mixture in the jug and half the mushroom water. Simmer on a medium heat for 10 minutes until the aubergines are soft and silky. Finally, mix the cornflour with a little water and add that to the wok, stirring until thickened. Take off the heat, drizzle with the sesame oil and garnish with the spring onions. Add a little pile of those preserved Sichuan chillis to each dish and serve with rice.
It's best to get everything chopped, minced and laid out, as with this kind of cooking everything happens fairly quickly.