Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer of Eggplant

We are beginning eggplant season so it’s time for an eggplant recipe. As a former vegetarian I am armed with an arsenal of eggplant recipes. I attempted to write the eggplant blog a few weeks ago using an old favorite but I stopped. The first eggplant recipe has to be one capable of changing people’s minds about this maligned fruit.

Like mayonnaise, people have very strong opinions about eggplant. I have many friends (and I can name you all) that profess to HATE (and I mean hatehatehate) eggplant; Jim’s brother-in-law claims he’s allergic to it. I’m not sure if it’s an allergy or a phobia. Even Jim, who will eat anything, including bugs, when I asked him a what foods he didn’t like said, ‘I don’t care for eggplant or brussels sprouts.‘ He eats both now and is enjoying them. So I know I can change someone’s mind. So while I was typing out my original eggplant recipe I said ‘Nope, the first one has got to be Kevin Rathbun’s Ya Ya Eggplant Fries’. Simply because they don’t taste or have the texture of eggplant. These things are, well, indescribable in a way that sounds appetizing, but I’m going to do my best. They are kind of like sublime eggplant doughnuts in french toast stick form with hot sauce and powdered sugar. Yes, they are good.

I Googled it and Rathbun’s has the recipe on their website. Lucky me. However I was skeptical, it seemed too easy. Really, I envisioned Kevin and Kirk performing some sort of eggplant voodoo in the kitchen to make it so fluffy and light on the inside. And what was the sauce, the hot sauce? Rathbun’s does not list it on their website. Someone on the internet speculated that it was simply Tabasco. I needed a trip up the street to taste test them from the source before committing to making them or blogging about them.

My custom at Rathbun’s to sit in the bar area and share a few appetizers rather than eat a full meal in the main dining room. We sat down and ordered drinks and discussed our options beyond the imminent eggplant fries. A few moments later a friend who works there came by to chat, she asked about my blog and I said the blog was the reason for our visit. (And Jim and I really deserved a date night.) I explained the eggplant situation and we talked about it and then she said ‘Oh wait, let me just go ask the guys in the kitchen.’ As Jim’s son would say ‘sweet victory.’ She returned and reiterated the recipe on the website, the fry temperature vacillated by 10 degrees, and, yes, it is Tabasco and no, they do not salt the eggplant before frying.

A couple changes or things we did not have and other bumps in the road. We didn’t have canola oil, we used corn; we didn’t have a fry-o-lator, we used a pan; I accidentally bought reduced fat buttermilk. The rest is basically the same. But it also produced an interesting litmus test. The kids usually eat eggplant in meatball form and love it. The point is they aren’t prejudiced against it yet. The powdered sugar certainly was an incentive to eat it. Jim’s daughter really enjoyed and expressed this by singing to it and asking for more, his son ate it, kind of, but not a home run. When we did the dishes and our geriatric dogs came begging I looked at the options and fed each of them a fry, they enjoyed it. One of those dogs recently turned her nose up to offerings of pepperoni pizza bones.

The result: ours weren’t as light and fluffy as Kevin’s, but they were close. Our favorites were the ones I double dipped in egg wash and bread crumbs. Let them sit for 10-15 minutes before serving, they remain lava hot for an extended period of time. So if you are willing to give eggplant another chance, try the fries.

Eggplant Fries - adapted from Kevin Rathbun - Serves 4-6

1 1lb. eggplant

2 cups bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Oil for frying

Cut the eggplant in to 1 1/2” fries, leaving the skin (I trimmed the seeds off of several to make them uniform and rectangular). Combine the eggs and the buttermilk and make an egg wash. Combine the breadcrumbs and the cheese. Heat an inch of oil in a cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Dip the fries into the egg wash and then the breadcrumbs, repeat, fry in batches for roughly 3 minutes until they are golden brown. I found 1 eggplant was equal to about 16 fries and I fried 5 at a time so as to not overcrowd the pan.

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