“Japanese eggplants are pleasantly delicate, and they require little effort to turn the flesh custardy, plus the skin is never leathery or chewy,” says Morocco. “It wants to play ball.”
“Honestly,” he admits, “Big, bruised, lopsided eggplants are just horrific and should never be cooked with.” (He means especially when they’re out of season and on grocery store shelves for too long.) He never cooks with eggplant larger than medium-sized, “unless I’m making eggplant parm, and even then, that speaks to the transformative process of making parm more than anything.” Noted.
Consider the Crosshatch
YuChen’s a big fan of scoring eggplant. In her recipe for harissa-roasted eggplant, she cuts cross hatches into the flesh of eggplant halves, then rubs a harissa-garlic-caper paste into the flesh so it soaks in as it roasts in the oven. You could even cross hatch an eggplant if all you have the energy to season it with is garlic salt.
Don’t Fear Fat
Because eggplant is a literal sponge, you might be afraid to keep adding more oil as you sauté it on the stove. The key is to add little by little, says Chris. “You’re better off spacing it out so that the different faces of the eggplant get an opportunity to absorb the oil, and that oil will help distribute the heat of the pan too.”
If you end up with too much oil in the pan, take a tip from Andy Baraghani’s recipe for eggplant with a warm cinnamon-walnut dressing: use a slotted spoon or tongs to fetch the cooked eggplant and leave the excess oil in the pan.
In an ideal world, Chris adds, you should toss the cut eggplant in a bowl of oil to get a chance to cover every side of it. In Sarah Jampel’s eggplant and ricotta sandwich, you brush the eggplant slices with oil before cooking them in a nonstick skillet, and then brush the other side before flipping. Smart!
Season with Abandon
Green beans have bright green flavor and snappy texture. Tomatoes burst with juicy sweetness. Eggplant, bless its heart, skews a little more on the bland side. It needs a lot of seasoning—salt, spices—to succeed. I noticed that a few reviews of our eggplant pasta mentioned theirs was bland. If you’re following a recipe, keep tasting and adding more salt or seasonings to keep up with the size of your eggplant. A bigger eggplant might need twice the amount of seasonings of a smaller one. “When in doubt, add salt,” says Morocco
Keep on Cookin’
A rookie mistake is not fully cooking the eggplant. “Nobody wants medium-rare eggplant,” says Morocco, who sounds like he knows from experience. A raw eggplant is crunchy and flavorless, like a raw potato. When it’s cooked, “it should turn fully tender, all the flesh should be somewhat custardy. If you have to, hammer it a bit, knock it around, let it start to collapse.”
When you’re roasting eggplant, like in YuChen’s recipe, “make sure you give them enough space so they can cook evenly,” she says. “You want them properly roasted—not steamed.”
Lean Into the Mush
There’s a time and a place to let eggplant become its truest self: mush. Eggplant’s custardy nature was made for moutabal, a smoky Lebanese dip, or Trini-stewed eggplant seasoned generously with garlic and curry powder. This eggplant confit practically melts in your mouth. In one of my favorite BA eggplant recipes, halved eggplants turn to custard and you top them with crispy beef. Which brings me to our concluding point. If you accidentally overcook eggplant when you’re trying your hardest not to undercook it, well, blend it into dip and call it dinner. And then the next time you do it, it’ll be on purpose.