Even eggplant haters are familiar with the iconic dish of eggplant Parmesan. After all, Parmesan-coated eggplant slices smothered in tomato sauce and baked until tender is a simple comfort food at its very best. While the preparations are straightforward, a few tricks will help you make the tastiest eggplant Parmesan yet.
Salt the Eggplant
Salting eggplant is a lore we've debated a bit. Supposedly the habit of salting eggplant before cooking was born as a way to mitigate bitter eggplant. Modern eggplant has had bitterness nearly bred out of it, so many cooks have given up the practice. Salting the slices for eggplant Parmesan is not to prevent bitter flavors, but to season the eggplant itself and, at least in my experience, keep the eggplant from sucking up too much of the olive oil from frying.
Fry for Flavor
Fried eggplant slices are elemental to this classic preparation. There are recipes that roast, toast, or bake the eggplant for eggplant Parmesan, and while they're surely tasty, they aren't the classic. Frying can be messy and greasy, but we can avoid both here by using just a small amount of oil and pan-frying the eggplant instead of deep-frying. Frying the Parmesan-crusted eggplant gives the dish a deep caramelized flavor that can not be mimicked by baking.
How To Make Classic Eggplant Parmesan
What You Need
2 large eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dry, fine breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces), divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups tomato sauce, divided
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces), divided
3 small bowls for dredging
Measuring cups and spoons
Wire cooling rack
8x8-inch baking dish
Large straight-sided skillet
- Slice and salt eggplant: Trim the stems from the eggplants and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. This should yield 16 to 18 slices. Lay the rounds out on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and sprinkle both sides with the salt. Let the rounds sit for 1 hour. Meanwhile, set up the dredging station.
- Set up a dredging station: Combine the breadcrumbs and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Place the flour in second small bowl. Whisk the eggs in a third small bowl. Arrange the bowls assembly line style in this order: flour, egg, breadcrumb mixture.
- Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F.
- Bread the eggplant: Rinse the salt from the eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels. Dip each eggplant slice completely in the flour, followed by the egg, and finally the breadcrumb mixture. Place the breaded slices back on the rack.
- Fry the eggplant: Heat the oil in a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Fry the slices 4 at a time (to avoid crowding the pan) until golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Place each batch of cooked eggplant back on the rack.
- Layer the casserole: Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce into an 8x8-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Place 1/3 of the eggplant slices in an even layer on top of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Top with 1 cup of the sauce in an even layer. Repeat these layers two more times with the remaining eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan.
- Bake: Bake until the eggplant is tender and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 35 minutes.
- Make ahead: The eggplant can be salted and rinsed the night before, and then stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Tomato sauce: We used How To Make Basic Tomato Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes in this recipe.