Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant 鱼香茄子 (Yu Xiang Qiezi)

A plate of Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant "Yu Xiang Qiezi" 鱼香茄子 served with white rice and Chinese tea.

A plate of Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant “Yu Xiang Qiezi” 鱼香茄子 served with white rice and Chinese tea

Featuring a fusion of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavors, fish fragrant eggplant or “yu xiang qiezi” is a signature Szechuan (or Sichuan) dish prepared with Asian eggplants flavored with a hot garlic sauce.
“Yu xiang qie zi” 鱼香茄子 literally translates into “fish fragrant eggplant” (“yu” 鱼 means” “fish”, “xiang” 香means “fragrant” or “flavored” and “qiezi” 茄子 means “eggplant”, or “aubergine” as it is known in the UK or “brinjal” as it is commonly known in South Asia).

Despite its name, the dish contains no fish and so is actually vegetarian. The meaning behind the name stems from the seasoning mixture which is known as “yu xiang” 鱼香 (which literally means “fish fragrance”). Dishes that belong to the “yu xiang” family, i.e., prepared with “yu xiang” seasoning ingredients typically have “yu xiang” affixed to their name, in this case “fish fragrant eggplant” is “yu xiang qiezi”.

A very common ingredient in traditional Szechuan dishes, doubanjiang 豆瓣酱 is a salty paste of fermented broad beans and soybeans.

Chinese rock sugar, known as “bing tang” 冰糖 is milder than the granulated refined sugar popularly consumed in the West. Bing tang usually comes in irregular-sized lumps which must be broken into pieces before they can be used.

It is generally accepted among Chinese that bing tang is healthier and produces a superior appearance and flavor when used for cooking. While some recipes for this dish may call for regular granulated sugar instead of bing tang, for a quality and authentic outcome bing tang is recommended.

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams Asian eggplants/aubergines/brinjals
  • 3 Szechuan pickled red chili peppers – sliced
  • 1 tablespoon doubanjiang
  • 1 1/4 cups (about 300 ml) cooking oil if deep frying / 2-6 tablespoons cooking oil if shallow frying
  • 1 tablespoon ginger – minced
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 2-3 spring onions – white and green parts sliced separately

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
  • 3/4 teaspoon potato flour mixed with some cold water to form a thick paste
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon Chinese rock sugar “bing tang”
  • Sea salt as desired

Method:

Wash and cut eggplants into 3 inch slices ensuring every slice has skin.

If deep frying, soak eggplants in cold water for about 15-20 minutes. This helps to remove any bitter tastes.

If shallow frying, sprinkle salt over the eggplants and let it sit for about 1 hour to let it release moisture.

In a small bowl, combine ingredients for sauce. Mix well. Set aside.

Heat up a cast iron wok over high flame.

Add cooking oil and let it heat up.

Carefully dip a pair of wooden cooking chopsticks into the oil (ensure the chopsticks are dry. Water droplets could make the oil splatter violently potentially causing burns). If it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Add the eggplant and fry until golden on the outside but soft inside. The flesh will be creamy white color (not roasted) and the skin will be a vibrant purple hue.

Take out eggplants and drain on paper towels.

Drain out oil leaving about 1 tablespoon.

Add garlic, ginger, Szechuan pickled red chili peppers and white portions of green onions.

Stir fry till aromatic.

Add doubanjiang and roast until red oil seeps out.

Add fried eggplants.

Add the sauce. Stir to coat the mixture evenly.

Take off heat, garnish with sliced green onions.

Serve hot with white rice.

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