Citizens, as part of the “week of garlic”, today I give you one of Sichuan’s most popular dishes: a braised eggplant dish cooked with pork whose name literally translates as ‘fish-fragrant eggplant’.
Traditionally, there is no fish used in this recipe at all! So, why the name?
Yuxiang (simplified Chinese: 鱼香; traditional Chinese: 魚香; pinyin: yú xiāng; literally: “fish fragrance”) is a seasoning mixture in Chinese cuisine, and also refers to the resulting sauce in which meat or vegetables are cooked.
It is said to have originated in Sichuan cuisine, but has since spread to other regional Chinese cuisines. Despite the term literally meaning “fish-fragrance” in Chinese, yuxiang contains no seafood, as previously noted. It is typically not used with seafood, but rather for dishes containing beef, pork, or chicken, as well as vegetarian recipes.
In fact, the late Chinese scholar and chef Barbara Tropp suggested in her fantastic cookbook “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking” that the Chinese characters became confused over time and should actually be interpreted as meaning “Sichuan-Hunan” flavor, which TFD heartily agrees with from both Chinese etymological and flavor perspectives.
On top of the basic mixture, cooking yuxiang almost always includes the use of sugar, salt, doubanjiang, soy sauce, and chili peppers.
Citizens, this dish is both easy and delicious – worthy of your time and minimal effort to prepare and serve!
Why does TFD suggest lard or poultry fat to fry vegetables in, you may aski? Easy – classical Chinese gastronomy states vegetables should always be fried in animal fat for flavor and health. I agree.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 large long Asian eggplant (300 grams / 10 ounces), cut into strips
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang or Baoning (preferred) black rice vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup, 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon lard, chicken fat or duck fat (highly preferred) or peanut oil
3 tablespoons garlic paste
2 tablespoons ginger paste
2 tablespoons minced scallion
100 grams (3.5 ounces) ground fatty pork (optional)
1 teaspoon Doubanjiang (chili bean paste) – 辣豆瓣酱
1-2 fresh Thai chili peppers, minced (or 1 pepper for less spicy dish)
⅛ cup chicken stock
Only if needed: 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon chicken stock
Shallow-fry the eggplant strips in ¼ cup hot fat or oil in a month-stick frying pan for about 2-3 minutes. This step is to ensure the eggplants don’t turn into mush and also to preserve their vibrant purple color. Remove from wok and drain on a plate.
When cool, sprinkle 2 teaspoons cornstarch over the eggplant, 1 teaspoon at a time, and rub it by hand to coat all eggplant strips well.
Combine soy sauce, vinegar, Shaoxing wine, ¼ teaspoon salt, sugar and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of fat or oil in a big nonstick skillet or preferably a wok over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, after about 2 minutes, carefully add eggplant and stir fry until the eggplant turns soft and golden-brown on the outside. Transfer eggplant to a plate and set aside.
In the same skillet, add 1 teaspoon fat or oil, scallion, garlic and ginger, and stir. Add ground pork (if using) and stir fry until surface of pork turns white, about 1 minute.
Add Doubanjiang and continue stirring constantly until pork mixes with the paste and turns dark red, about 1 minute.
Add all remaining ingredients, except cornstarch mixture and sauté until cooked/heated through and thickened.
If the sauce hasn’t thickened to your satisfaction, stir cornstarch mixture, turn heat down to lowest setting and add a small amount of the mixture. Stir, and add if needed add more to achieve your desired thickness. Not TOO much, you don’t want a gummy sauce!
Remove and serve immediately over steamed white rice.