Crunchy Fish with Tender Aubergine

While my non-Chinese schoolmates were at home eating - or resisting - such common vegetables as spinach and broccoli, I was happily consuming what was then an exotic and unfamiliar vegetable: Chinese aubergine.

My mother would prepare it as a separate vegetable dish, or she would combine it with meat or fish for a hearty and tasty meal.

This dish is one of my favourites. It combines the soft, delicate, tender texture of aubergine with pan-fried fish. The combination of these two distinct flavours and textures is typically Chinese. It was a most pleasing and very satisfying home-cooked dish.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) Chinese aubergines or ordinary aubergines
  • 2 teaspoons salt, if using ordinary aubergines
  • 480 ml (16 fl oz) plus 3 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 450 g (1 lb) firm white fish fillet, such as sea bass or halibut
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Cornflour, for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese black rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Method

Roll-cut the Chinese aubergine by slicing at a slight diagonal, then rolling the aubergine 180 degrees and slicing again at a slight diagonal. If you are using the ordinary aubergine, trim and cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes. Sprinkle these cubes with the 2 teaspoons of salt and leave them in a sieve to drain for 20 minutes. Then rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with kitchen paper.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Pour in the 480 ml (16 fl oz) of groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, deep-fry the aubergine pieces in two batches for a few minutes until they are tender. Drain well in a colander and then on kitchen paper.

Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and sprinkle evenly with the 1 teaspoon of salt. Now dust them evenly with cornflour, shaking off any excess.

Pour off the oil, allow to cool and store (or reserve) for the next time you are deep-frying aubergine. Wipe the wok clean and reheat. When it is hot, swirl in 3 tablespoons of fresh oil. Pan-fry the fish until it is crispy and brown. Remove the fish and drain on kitchen paper. Pour off most of the oil, leaving 1 tablespoon. Reheat the wok; toss in the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Now add the rest of the ingredients, except the fish and sesame oil. Bring the mixture to the boil. Return the aubergine to the wok and continue to cook over a high heat until the aubergine is tender. Then return the fish and reheat. Stir in the sesame oil. Serve at once.

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