Thursday 1 July 2010

Fish Fragrant Aubergines

Fish fragrant aubergines is the first Sichuan dish I cooked, and I was instantly addicted. I used Sunflower's recipe and the balance of spiciness, sweet and sour was spot on. It doesn't actually contain fish - the 'fish fragrant' refers to the aforementioned tastes with the mix of garlic, ginger and spring onions.

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

Serves 4

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.


aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I'm one of those who has a 'thing' about aubergines, in a good way, so I'd love to try this - sounds and looks delish. Where can I get Chinese black vinegar from - am guessing I need to schlepp up to Chinatown or go to Wing Yip?

miss south said...

I have always loathed aubergine until I recently tried this dish at Chilli Cool. Now am I obsessed...

I've got one recipe, but various friends don't eat pork, so thanks for this version!

S said...

i *love* that you used tofu and not pork, as this means i can prepare this dish exactly the way you did. am an aubergine addict, like you. x shayma
ps i love the photo of the pickled chillies- i never seem to get that angle when i take photos. much to learn from you.

Lost in the Larder said...

Love aubergines, I also have a jar of sichuan peppercorns that beg to be used more often. I'll give this a go. Looks amazing.

Dan said...

I had Fish Fragrant Aubergines at Chilli Cool, and out of everything I ate that night - it totally blew me away. Amazing dish, superb to see you cooking it at home. Tres impressive.

Fernandez & Leluu said...

I am an aubergine addict and this is a great inspiration - thank you xxx

The Grubworm said...

What @Dan said - I was there the same night and they blew me away too. Now you have given me a recipe - thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Last time I ate these it was all I could do not to bury my face in the oil and slurp up those, almost obscenely, silky-smooth babies.

Aubergine addicts salute you.

gourmet traveller said...

good call on not deep-frying - I adore this dish (well, with pork) but hardly ever make it as I can literally feel my arteries clogging up as I eat! must try your version with those pickled chillies soon.

Anonymous said...

Oh I LOVE aubergines but OH claims not to like them apart from when disguised by the spice in Thai curry, so I'm willing to bet he'd eat this too. Brilliant!

Now I just need to get myself to Chinatown or the little Chinese supermarket near-by to stock up on ingredients. Been meaning to for a while anyway, but I always get too easily intimidated and confused looking for specifics and just end up buying loads of cheap noodles.

Unknown said...

Have been meaning to make this for ages and keep forgetting, coincidentally have a load of aubergines to use up so no excuses.

Helen said...

I also shallow fry my aubergines. it just seems so wrong otherwise. I do love those tofu puffs - like sponges. Sadly, Chris hates them so I only eat them when he's out. I can't wait to get my chillies! PLEASE DON'T EAT THEM.

Greedy Diva said...

Great recipe, Lizzie. I still really need to try Chilli Cool too.

Unknown said...

Love, love aubergines so loving this recipe - although I agree the pork version sounds even more delightful.

tobias kocht! said...

Interesting way of seasoning!

Anonymous said...

Yo, I bought these chillies from See Woo. V interesting and a good addition to my Asian chilli sauce selection. Cheers. Your mate the Daily Terd.

Katy-Mei said...

I love aubergine... your cooking and pics are beautiful... love to be your neighbour! :-) Reading your blog make me home sick... are you Chinese? Mei

Séadna said...

Generally in Sichuan they don't add minced pork, so it' normally a vegetarian dish anyway

Hollow Legs said...

Séadna - really? In all the restaurants and my Sichuan Cookery book it's with pork...