8 Mistakes You're Making When Cooking Eggplant
Eggplant is a delicious, versatile vegetable that takes a starring role in many cuisines. Whether it's used with a thick sauce for a pasta or Italian dish, baked, stuffed with cheese, turned into a smoky dip, or simply roasted, it's hearty and satisfying and you can find it in most grocery stores year-round.
Yet, you can mess up that beautiful eggplant if you cook it incorrectly. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid making when you're preparing eggplant and what to do instead:
You Keep the Skin On
Unless the skin is reinforcing eggplant halves or slices, make sure your eggplant is peeled before cooking it and digging in. "If it's a larger vegetable, the skin tends to be thicker and harder to chew. So peeling the skin off and cubing it for roasting or sautéing is the way to go," says Maria Covarrubias, in-house chef at Chosen Foods. "For smaller varieties, like Japanese eggplant, you can slice it on a bias and sauté, roast, or deep fry," she adds.
Not Spacing Things Out
If you're baking or roasting eggplants, give them some wiggle room so they cook evenly. You don't want to crowd the baking sheet or pan. "When you lay them on the tray to roast, make sure they're in a single layer and give them enough room to roast properly. Eggplant is about 80 to 90 percent water, so when you put them in the oven they need space to evaporate all that water and caramelize properly," says Covarrubias. Give them a toss halfway through the cooking process to make sure they're cooked evenly, too. Eggplant should be caramelized on the outside but soft and velvety inside.
Using Excess Oil
Eggplant absorbs oil too well, so don't drench it. "Eggplants are like sponges; for any ingredient you add to it, it will absorb the heck out of [it]," Covarrubias says. Balance is key, so not too much or too little. "Choosing the right amount of oil, salt, and your choice of spices will set you up for success," she says. Instead of adding oil to your frying pan, brush eggplant with oil when making eggplant Parmesan, grilled eggplant, roll-ups, and similar dishes, says Sofia Norton, RD. You'll have a lot more control over how much oil you're using total. "If making stir-fries or ratatouille, fry them in a teaspoon or two of sizzling hot oil to create a good sear. Coating them with bread crumbs also helps prevent this problem," says Norton.
Skipping the Brining Process
Brining adds flavor and texture to eggplants. "Mix spices and salt with water, then soak sliced eggplant in the brine for 30 minutes before cooking. You can also use fresh aromatics and herbs by simmering the brining solution; just make sure it cools to room temperature before you add your eggplant and start the brine timer," says Chef Ellie Golemb of Culinarie Kit. This will make it taste amazing and have a sturdier, non-mushy texture.
Forgetting to Pre-Salt It
Salting and pat-drying eggplants are common steps in many recipes for drawing out excess moisture. Eggplants have a spongy texture that absorbs fats and flavors perfectly, but only when slightly dehydrated with the help of a couple of sprinkles of salt, explains Norton. "Add a pinch of salt to both sides of eggplant slices and let them sit on the counter for up to an hour. You'll soon notice droplets of water appearing on the eggplant's surface," she says. Pat the surface of the eggplant dry just before cooking.
Choosing the Wrong Eggplant
A good meal starts with produce that's top-notch, and eggplants are no exception. "Bruised, wrinkly, or soft eggplants are well past their peak and are likely to be dry and spongy no matter how you prepare them. Some eggplant varieties are also better than others in different meals," says Norton. Choose an eggplant that's heavy for its size, relatively firm, and with little to no imperfections. "Go for the big, dark varieties seen in most supermarkets when making stuffed eggplant. Otherwise, heirlooms found at farmer's market are great for most other dishes," she says.
Adding in Too Many Ingredients
It can be tempting to coat and stuff eggplants with lots of tomato sauce, cheese, herbs, and spices. "But doing this will mask eggplant's wonderful flavor," says Norton. "Using too much sauce and cheese can also lead to a gooey dish, with the eggplant soft and not holding everything together as well as it should," she says. Practice restraint with eggplant dish and use ingredients to complement and enhance the eggplant, not mask it.
Depending on variety and size, and how they are cut, eggplants take 15 to 25 minutes to fully cook. Undercook them and you'll be left with a bitter-tasting veggie that has the texture of a cotton ball, says Norton. "Most recipes can accurately predict how much time it will take for eggplants to fully cook. Go for a 15 minute minimum with thin slices of tender eggplant varieties," she says. Otherwise, a cooked eggplant will be slightly browned, reduced in size, aromatic, and the inside will be creamy.