I love eating eggplant, especially when it’s drenched in a flavorful spicy sauce. This eggplant stir fry is inspired by a popular Sichuan-style dish, yuxiang qiezi or fish-fragrant eggplant (鱼香茄子). To make yuxiang qiezi, eggplant pieces are often mixed with cornstarch before being flash fried in oil. Then, you would prepare the sauce by stir frying pork mince along with a spicy sauce or paste (oftentimes doubanjiang), spices, sugar, and vinegar. Finally, the flash-fried eggplant is tossed with the sauce.
When I was making the spicy eggplant a few weeks ago, I wanted to make a dish that was simpler than yuxiang qiezi but didn’t compromise on flavor. I omitted the pork, vinegar, and reduced the amount of sugar that’s typical in yuxiang qiezi recipes. The eggplant stir fry was an absolute delight to eat along with a fresh batch of jasmine rice.
HOW TO MAKE SPICY STIR FRIED EGGPLANT
PREPARE THE EGGPLANT
For this dish, you’ll want to use 2 to 3 long Chinese or Japanese eggplant (about 1 pound, see photo above for reference). I prefer cooking with this type of eggplant in general because the seeds are much more tender compared to larger eggplant. Plus, the eggplant usually doesn’t taste bitter.
Take the eggplant and cut them into 2.5 to 3-inch sections. Then, slice each section into batons that are about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick.
Many eggplant recipes recommend salting the eggplant and letting it sit for a while, but I don’t think that is necessary for this recipe. The purpose of the salting is to draw out moisture from the eggplant and to mask the bitterness of eggplant. However, I don’t find Asian eggplant to be bitter. Furthermore, I don’t find the minimal amount of moisture in the eggplant to be an issue for flash frying the eggplant. Finally, whenever I salt eggplant beforehand, I lose some of the subtle, sweet flavor of eggplant, which I enjoy. The sauce in this spicy eggplant recipe is quite flavorful already! For these reasons, I don’t think you need to salt the eggplant before flash frying.
Fill a wok with 3/4 cup of canola or any neutral-flavored oil and heat it over medium-high heat. Once the oil reaches about 350ºF to 360ºF (175ºC to 180ºC), the oil is ready for frying (this should take about 3 minutes). Working in batches, fry a large handful of eggplant in the hot oil for 1 minute. Then, transfer the flash-fried eggplant to a plate and continue to flash fry the remaining eggplant.
The frying process softens the eggplant without turning it grey and mushy. Plus, the frying better preserves the vibrant purple color of the eggplant skin, which makes your dish much more visually appealing.
For those of you who don’t like frying foods in a lot of oil, you can pan fry the eggplant over medium-high heat. As you can see in the photo above (left), pan frying will turn the eggplant skin brown. Another thing to note is that eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge. Even if you are pan-frying eggplant, don’t be frugal with the oil. Otherwise, the eggplant might come out a little dry.
You can also toss the eggplant with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of oil and air fry at 350ºF (175ºC) for 5 to 6 minutes, giving the eggplant a shake halfway.
In the past, I have cooked eggplant with water to avoid using excessive oil. I would pan fry the eggplant with a little oil and add water once the oil has absorbed into the eggplant (see photo above, right). The problem was that the water made the eggplant grayish and a little mushy for my taste. That’s why I don’t usually cook eggplant that way anymore.
Once you have fried all the eggplant, pour all the oil into a heat-safe bowl and leave about 2 tablespoons of oil in the wok. You shouldn’t have that much oil leftover. You can use that oil to cook other dishes like Chinese stir fry shredded potatoes or egg fried rice. for up to a few days.
INGREDIENTS FOR SAUCE
This recipe relies on doubanjiang (豆瓣酱/豆瓣醬), Sichuan-style fermented broad bean chili sauce/paste. There are many different brands of doubanjiang that you may find (see photo above). When testing this recipe, I used Lee Kum Kee’s doubanjiang, which has a redder color than the paste you see on the right. Any doubanjiang should work for this recipe. Besides this spicy eggplant recipe, you can also use doubanjiang in my vegan mapo tofu recipe.
You’ll also need some minced garlic and ginger.
I also added Sichuan peppercorn for the sauce because I like the floral notes of the peppercorn. I took 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorn and ground it with a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Sichuan peppercorn is known for its tongue-numbing spice, but the amount used in this recipe wasn’t enough for me to detect a tongue-numbing sensation. You can leave out the Sichuan peppercorn if you don’t have any.
For additional spice, I also used red chili flakes from Diaspora Co. It has a medium level of spice and I love the vibrant color of the flakes. You can use gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes) or red pepper flakes (with the seeds) that you can usually find at the supermarket. The pepper flakes with the seeds tend to be made with cayenne pepper, so you might want to use less than what I specify in the recipe.
Feel free to reduce or increase the level of spice in this dish to suit your taste.
STIR FRY EGGPLANT
With the heat on medium-high, add the garlic and ginger to the wok. Cook for about 30 seconds, until you can start smelling the garlic. Add the doubanjiang, and cook for 30 seconds more. Next, add the ground Sichuan peppercorn (if using), chili flakes, sugar, and salt. Stir to combine.
Next, add in a cornstarch slurry (water mixed with a small amount of cornstarch) to the wok. Bring the liquid to a rapid boil and then let it simmer for 30 seconds to a minute so that the sauce can thicken.
Add the flash-fried eggplant back into the wok and stir to combine with the sauce. Transfer the eggplant to a plate. Add scallions and sesame seeds on the eggplant for garnish.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH SPICY EGGPLANT STIR FRY
Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry
- 1 pound (454g) Chinese or Japanese eggplant, (see note 1)
- 3/4 cup canola oil, or any neutral oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons doubanjiang, (see note 2 for subtitutions)
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, ground (optional, see note 3)
- 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes, depending on your desired level of spice
- 2 teaspoons sugar, (see note 4)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) kosher salt, more to taste, use half the amount if using table or sea salt
- sliced scallions for garnish
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- Slice the eggplant into 2.5 to 3-inch sections. Then, slice each section into batons (or strips) that are about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. You don’t need to salt the eggplant for this recipe (see note 5 for more info). Set the eggplant aside.
- Add 3/4 cup of oil to a wok and heat it over medium-high heat. (See note 5) Once the temperature reaches about 350ºF to 360ºF (175ºC to 180ºC), it is ready for frying. You can test the temperature with a thermometer or by taking a small piece of eggplant and adding it to the wok. If the oil around the eggplant bubbles rapidly, the oil is ready for frying.
- Working in batches, add a large handful of eggplant batons to the wok. Fry for about 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, flipping the batons halfway. Using tongs, transfer the eggplants into a spider spatula. Give the spider spatula a gentle shake to shake off any excess oil from the eggplant. Then, transfer the flash-fried eggplant to a plate and flash fry another batch of eggplant batons.
- Eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge. After about 2 or 3 batches of frying, you’ll notice that there’s less oil in the wok. As a result, you’ll want to fry in smaller batches for the remaining eggplant. You can also add more oil to the wok.
- Once all the eggplant has been cooked, turn off the heat. Pour some of the excess oil into a heat-safe bowl, leaving about 2 tablespoons of oil in the wok. (See note 7)
- In a small bowl, make the cornstarch slurry by whisking 1/2 cup water with 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch. This slurry will thicken the sauce later.
- Heat the wok over medium-high heat again. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant. Next, add the doubanjiang and swirl the paste into the hot oil. Cook for another 30 seconds. Then, add the ground Sichuan peppercorn (if using), red chili flakes, sugar, and salt. Stir to combine.
- Whisk the cornstarch slurry again before pouring it into the wok. Bring the liquid to a rapid boil and let the sauce simmer for 30 seconds to a minute to allow the sauce to thicken slightly.
- Add all the eggplant back into the wok and stir to combine with the sauce. Turn off the heat and transfer the eggplant to a serving plate. Garnish the spicy eggplant with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve the spicy eggplant stir fry with jasmine rice.
- This is a long variety of eggplant. One pound should be about 2 or 3 Chinese or Japanese eggplant, depending on the size. It is fine if the amount of eggplant you have is slightly over a pound. However, you don’t want to go too much over 1 pound 2 ounces, as there won’t be enough sauce to season the eggplant well.
- You can find doubanjiang in large Asian supermarkets, Chinese grocers or on Amazon (affiliate link). Wondering what to do with leftover doubanjiang? Use it to make my vegan mapo tofu recipe or in stir fries (fried rice, chow mein, etc.). Doubanjiang Subsitutions: You can use black bean garlic & sauce to replace the doubanjiang; you may want to add a little more chili flakes if you want spice. I think gochujang would work too, but you may want to reduce the amount of sugar, as gochujang is sweet. A reader told me they used ssamjang and it worked well with the recipe!
- I ground the peppercorns with a pestle and mortar.
- The sugar balances out the flavors of the doubanjiang. If you want to avoid using additional sugars, you can omit it.
- Many eggplant recipes will say to salt the eggplant and let it sit for a little while before draining the excess water and patting the eggplant dry. I don’t find it to be necessary for this recipe. Asian eggplant isn’t very bitter to begin with. Plus, the minimal amount of moisture in the eggplant isn’t a huge issue for flash-frying.
- If you don’t have a wok, you can fry the eggplant in a saucepan. You can also use a large pan to fry the eggplant, but you’ll likely need to use more oil so that the amount of oil is deep enough for frying.
- You can use the excess oil for cooking for the next few days. There will be some small brown bits in the oil that you might want to strain before storing the oil in the refrigerator.
- Pan-Frying Directions: If you want to avoid frying the eggplant, you can pan fry the eggplant in a large pan over medium-high. Eggplant absorbs oil quickly, so use a generous amount of oil when pan-frying. Pan fry the eggplant for about 1 to 2 minutes and then flip over the pieces to pan fry the other side for another minute or so.
- Air-Frying Directions: Preheat the air fryer to 350ºF (175ºC). Toss the eggplant with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of oil (any vegetable or olive oil works). Working in two batches, cook the eggplant for 5 to 6 minutes, giving the eggplant a shake halfway.
- The nutrition information below is a rough estimate because it’s difficult to measure how much oil is absorbed into the eggplant during the flash frying process.