Sichuan Fried Aubergines

Aubergines are delicious when fried in a light batter, which prevents too much oil penetrating the aubergines. They are then enlivened by what the Chinese call a ‘fish flavouring’ sauce, a non-fishy mixture of spices and seasonings normally used in the preparation of fish. Both the aubergines and the batter readily absorb the sauce. This sauce is not to be confused with the commercially bottled fish sauce widely used in Southeast Asian cooking. Try to buy Chinese aubergines as they have a more delicate taste; however, ordinary aubergines will suffice. This is an excellent starter. If you serve it with cocktails, serve the sauce separately.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) aubergines
  • 450 ml (15 fl oz) oil, preferably groundnut, for deep-frying

Batter

  • 50 g (2 oz) plain flour
  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon oil, preferably groundnut
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean sauce
  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black rice
  • vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour mixed with 1 teaspoon water

Method

Cut the aubergines into 3.5 x 7.5 cm (1½ x 3 in) slices. Do not peel them.

For the batter, mix the flour, water and salt together in a small bowl, then strain through a fine sieve. Leave to rest for about 20 minutes.

For the sauce, heat a wok or large frying-pan until hot and add the 1 tablespoon of oil. Put in the spring onions, ginger and chilli bean sauce and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Then add the stock, rice wine, vinegar, tomato puree, sugar and soy sauce and continue to cook for 1 minute. Thicken the sauce with the blended cornflour and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or large wok until quite hot. Dip the slices of aubergine into the batter, let the excess batter drip off, then deep-fry. You may have to do this in several batches. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper.

Arrange the aubergine slices on a serving platter, pour the sauce over and serve.

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