Hunan Eggplant with Spicy Meat Sauce

湘味茄子

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    3–4

    as a main course .

Appears in

This is a spice lover’s delight of soft shredded eggplant, nubbled with minced pork and redolent of hot chili and garlic. To eat it will put sweat on your brow—the unabashed joy of most Hunanese and Szechwanese who, living for much of the year in a hot and humid climate, look to the chili as a culinary sort of air-conditioning. The palate smolders and the body feels refreshed. It is a phenomenon known to Indians, Mexicans, and Chinese alike.

  • True to Hunan taste, the eggplant is not at all oily, and the seasonings are well-balanced between fiery and sweet. A light yet wholesome and stimulating dish, it is excellent hot, tepid, or at room temperature.
  • The eggplant may be cooked and shredded 1–2 days in advance of saucing. Completing the dish takes 5 minutes, which makes it ideal for a busy weekday night.

Ingredients

  • pounds firm eggplant, slender Chinese eggplant or Japanese eggplant variety recommended

Aromatics

  • 4–8 large cloves garlic, stem end removed, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 1 walnut-size nugget fresh ginger
  • 1 medium whole scallion, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 scant teaspoon Chinese salted black beans (not the variety seasoned with five-spice powder)

For stir-frying

  • 2 tablespoons thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
  • 1½-2 tablespoons Chinese chili sauce
  • 4–6 ounces ground pork butt
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil

Method

Baking and shredding the eggplant

Bake, peel, and shred the eggplant as directed.1 prefer to tear the eggplant for this particular dish into long, thin shreds with my fingers, though you may use a cleaver or knife if you like.

The shredded eggplant may be sealed airtight and refrigerated 1–2 days prior to saucing. Bring to room temperature before stir-frying. If Western eggplant becomes watery in the refrigerator, drain the liquid before cooking.

Preparations

Mince the garlic, ginger, and scallion in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, scraping down as necessary until fine. Add the black beans (do not soak or wash them), then process with 1 or 2 on-off turns until coarsely chopped. Scrape the seasonings into a dish. If you do not have a food processor, mince the garlic, ginger, and scallion by hand until fine. Chop the beans coarsely, then combine.

Combine the soy and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

This may be done hours in advance of stir-frying. Seal the aromatics airtight and refrigerate until use.

Stir-frying the dish

Have the eggplant, the minced aromatics, the soy mixture, and the remaining ingredients all within easy reach of your stovetop. If you are serving the eggplant hot, put a serving dish of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add the corn or peanut oil, swirl to glaze the pan, then reduce the heat to medium. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one bit of the minced seasonings, scrape them into the pan. Adjust the heat so they sizzle without scorching, then stir gently until fully fragrant, about 20 seconds.

Add the chili sauce to the pan, stir 2–3 seconds to combine, then add the pork. Stir, mash, and toss to mix the meat with the seasonings and break it into tiny bits, adjusting the heat so it sizzles briskly without browning. When the pork is 90 percent gray, add the eggplant and stir to combine and heat the mixture through, about 30–45 seconds.

Add the soy and sugar, stir to blend, then reduce the heat to low and taste for the desired degree of hotness. (If you plan to serve the eggplant tepid or at room temperature, expect it to grow spicier as it sits, and don’t overdo the chili. If it tastes spicy but not flavorful, add a dash of sugar.) When it is spiced to suit you, add the sesame oil, toss well to mix, then scrape the eggplant into the serving dish. Just before serving, toss lightly to redistribute the seasonings.

Leftovers keep 3–4 days, refrigerated and sealed airtight. Eat at room temperature, or resteam in a tightly covered dish until hot. The spiciness will grow, and peaks on the second day.

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