Eggplant can be one tricky fruit to cook (yes, it's actually a fruit — not a vegetable), particularly when fried and sautéed. Often the result of being mistreated, it can get a bad rap — one it doesn't entirely deserve.
When handled right, eggplant's texture ranges from tender and creamy, to silky and smooth. When things go wrong, it's another story entirely. Its inner flesh acts like a sponge, soaking up every drop of oil it touches. It becomes sodden, greasy, and ultimately makes for quite a heavy dish. But it doesn't have to be that way — this is how to prevent greasy eggplant from happening.
Blame the Air Pockets for Eggplant's Sogginess
When added to a hot, oiled pan, eggplant can soak up all that oil shockingly fast. Add more oil to the pan and it'll soak that up in a snap, too. So why exactly does this happen?
It's all thanks to the vegetable's cellular structure. Eggplant has soft, spongy flesh loaded with tiny air pockets, which are quick to absorb up hot oil or liquids. Preventing this from occurring is all about controlling the oil, and breaking down the air pockets before they can become filled with oil.
There aren't any methods that will prevent eggplant from soaking up oil entirely, but these three will definitely reduce how much is absorbed.
1. Brush the oil onto the eggplant.
Instead of pouring oil into the pan, brush it on the eggplant flesh. You'll have a lot more control over how much oil is used. This approach works best when cooking eggplant halves or slices. Brush one side of the flesh, then immediately add it to a hot pan. And in the case of slices, brush the other side with oil just before flipping, to prevent the oil from soaking into the flesh.
2. Microwave it first.
Before hitting the stovetop, give cubed and sliced eggplant pieces a spin in the microwave. Pre-cooking the eggplant (in a single layer, on a paper towel-lined plate) for about five minutes helps collapse the spongey structure, which will prevent it from absorbing quite so much oil.
3. Sweat the eggplant.
While we don't necessarily need to salt eggplant to cut the bitterness anymore, this does work to help prevent it from absorbing so much oil. Sweating works to collapse the eggplant's structure, as the salt draws moisture out of its cells, which then fills the air pockets. With the air pockets full of moisture, there's not as much room for the oil to soak in.
Sprinkle salt over the sliced eggplant, let it sweat for 30 to 60 minutes, then rinse and pat dry before cooking.
4. Soak the eggplant in milk.
While microwaving and salting the eggplant work to collapse the fruit's porous structure, this method that Hali suggested to me takes the opposite approach. Soaking slices or cubes off eggplant in milk for one to two hours fills the porous structure studded with air pockets with milk, leaving no room for oil to be absorbed.
Get the Recipe: Eggplant and Honey from Concrete Magnolia