“Fish-fragrant” (yu xiang) is one of the classic flavour combinations of Sichuanese cookery, and it’s so named because it uses the seasonings used in traditional fish cookery: pickled chillies, ginger, garlic and spring onions, with a bit of sweet and sour.
(Serves four – with three other dishes)
- 600-700g aubergines (2 decent-sized aubergines, or a good handful of slender Oriental aubergines)
- Groundnut or corn oil for deep-frying
- 1½ tsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
- 3 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
- 3 tsp finely chopped garlic
- 150ml chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ tsp light soy sauce
- 1½ tsp unrefined golden granulated sugar
- ¾tsp potato flour, mixed with 1tbs cold water
- 1½ tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
- 4 spring onions, green parts only, sliced into fine rings
- 1tsp sesame oil
To start, cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and then crosswise. Chop each quarter lengthwise into 3 or 4 evenly sliced chunks. Sprinkle with 1½ tsp of salt and leave for at least 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices.
If you are using Oriental aubergines, simply slice them in half lengthwise and then into 7-8cm sections – there is no need to salt them.
In a wok, heat the oil for deep-frying to 180-200°C (at this temperature it will just be starting to smoke).
Add the aubergines in batches and deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden on the outside and soft and buttery within. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Drain off the deep-frying oil, rinse the wok if necessary, and then return it to a high flame with 2-3tbs of oil. Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for about 20 seconds until the oil is red and fragrant; then add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir-fry for another 20-30 seconds until they are fragrant.
Take care not to burn the flavourings – remove the wok from the heat for a few seconds or turn down the heat if necessary.
Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Season with salt to taste, if necessary.
Add the fried aubergines to the sauce and let them simmer gently for a few minutes to absorb some of the flavours. Then sprinkle the potato flour mixture over the aubergines and stir in gently to thicken the sauce.
Next, stir in the vinegar and spring onions and leave for a few seconds until the onions have lost their rawness.
Finally, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.
This recipe by Fuschia Dunlop is taken from the book How the British Fell in Love with Food, compiled by Lewis Esson.