Simmered Japanese Eggplants

Simmered Japanese Eggplants

Atsushi demonstrates his Japanese cooking skills at Saveur's test kitchen in New York, preparing a delicious lunch for the editorial staff. The highlight of the menu is a crowd-pleasing dish of simmered Japanese eggplant, infused with flavors of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. Follow the provided recipe for a taste of delicate, tender eggplant with umami and sweet-salty flavors.

During his stay in New York, Saveur's editor-in-chief Jim Oseland graciously invited Atsushi to demonstrate his cooking at the magazine's test kitchen, and prepare lunch for the editorial staff. Atsushi planned a wonderful menu, incorporating dishes we had cooked plus new ones. After last minute sprints to the farmers market and Sunrise Mart, the Japanese food store in lower Manhattan, we arrived at the magazine laden with supplies, and Atsushi set to work.

The crowd-pleasing favorite was eggplant -- the classic Japanese vegetable of summertime. Applying the otoshibuta once again, Atsushi simmered Japanese eggplant, shaped like long purple-black fingers, in dashi, soy sauce and mirin. Here's how he did it:

What you need:

  • Japanese eggplants
  • Konbu-katsuo dashi, prepared ahead of time
  • Mirin
  • Usukuchi soy sauce
  • High smoke point vegetable oil

The technique: Heat oil in a saucepan, enough to deep fry the eggplants. Cut the tops off of four eggplants, and cut in half through the middle. Make several lengthwise incisions about 1/4 inch deep around the pieces to allow heat and flavors to reach the flesh. When the oil is hot enough, about 350 degrees, deep fry the eggplant for about three minutes and transfer to a paper towel-lined dish to drain. The purpose of this step is to soften the eggplant and cook it through so it will absorb the flavoring liquid when it simmers. The eggplants will collapse a little and the skin will get crinkly. They'll be soft to the touch with chopsticks.

When the eggplant cools, transfer them to a small saucepan. Add dashi -- Atsushi used about two cups -- so they cover the eggplants but don't totally immerse them. They should still stick out a little over the liquid. Now add about a quarter cup each of mirin and soy sauce -- equal amounts to balance sweet and salty flavors. Place an aluminum foil otoshibuto on top of the eggplant and turn up the heat to high. As soon as the liquid boils, lower the heat to medium to simmer. You'll see the liquid foaming beneath the otoshibuta, even lifting the aluminum foil -- that's okay, it's doing what it's supposed to. Taste the liquid after a couple of minutes to check flavors. After about ten minutes the eggplant will be ready. Serve this delicate, tender eggplant, layered with umami, mirin and soy sauce flavors, with its cooking liquid.

When you try this dish, I'd be grateful if you could let me know in the comments how it turns out. Did it work? Any questions or thoughts?