Aubergine / Eggplants can be hard to cook and even harder to cook to perfection. They become mushy very quickly and they tend to soak up oil and this affects their taste and texture. Aubergine can be cooked in a number of ways, either whole, halved or sliced, and with or without the skin. The skin may be tough on larger aubergines, and so it is wise to remove it before slicing and cooking.
In the past, the classic advice was to sprinkle salt on the cut surfaces of aubergine or slices and then to let them seep and drain to get rid of the bitter flavours of aubergine. Modern varieties of aubergine are now a lot less bitter, and so salting may be as necessary for taste. However, salting does draw out the moisture from the aubergine, which makes it drier and firmer. Soaking in brine also means it will absorb less fat when frying, which is very useful.
This article outlines how to prepare and cook eggplants in a variety of ways with tips to get the perfect outcome every time.
A common issue when roasting eggplant slices or cubes in the oven is that they become soggy and mushy before they caramelise on the outside. The simple solutions for this problem are:
Slice the eggplant into thick slices (3 cm or 1.5 inches). Then, cut each slice into small square pieces to form cubes. Next, transfer to a small bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper then toss well. Spread the eggplant cubes, in a single layer, on a greased baking tray and bake at 240 degrees C (450 degrees F) for about 15-20 minutes. Flip the cubes over and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft inside, but caramelised on the edges.
Preheat your oven to Heat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Slice medium-size eggplants in half length-ways. Using a very sharp knife, score the flesh deeply with the tip of the knife, making a criss-cross pattern with 3-4 diagonal cuts. Squeeze on the edges to open up the cuts and sprinkle salt into them. Set the eggplant halves aside, with cut-side up, 20-30 minutes to start to extract the bitterness.
Next, line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Gently squeeze each eggplant half over a bowl to extract the salty liquid. Then, wipe dry with a paper towel. Next, brush each half thoroughly with olive oil and add a sprig of thyme. Place each half, cut side down, on the lined baking sheet. Roast for about 1 hour. Then, remove the eggplants from the oven and place cut-side up on a serving plate. Top with freshly ground black pepper, herbs and spices. Serve with fresh herbs and lemon wedges.
The simplest and easiest way to bake whole eggplants is to place them directly on an oven rack, with a baking pan at the bottom of the oven to catch any drips. Use a knife or fork to poke a few holes in the skin, but leave them unpeeled. This may not be necessary for smaller eggplants. The eggplant’s skin stops it from drying out. It also traps the eggplant's natural juices inside, and steams the eggplant flesh.
You can wrap the whole eggplant in aluminum foil before baking, but this increase the cooking time by 30 minutes or more and tends to make the whole eggplant mushy. You can also place one or more eggplants on a baking dish before roasting whole.
To bake whole eggplants heat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Choose medium size eggplants as the larger ones are too thick to cook properly by baking. Rinse and dry the eggplant under cool running tap water. Then, pat dry the eggplants with paper towels. Place the eggplants directly on the middle rack of the oven, with a baking sheet underneath. Or place the eggplants on the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake until tender inside and the skin is wrinkly, (generally 45-60 minutes). Remove the eggplant using a fork or tongs and place on a wire rack or cutting board to cool. Once cool, cut the eggplant in half and serve, or use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh.
Prepare the eggplant by slicing it in half, dicing it, or piercing small whole eggplants with a fork— or knife tip. Place an oven rack about 5-7 inches (12-18 cm) below the broiler (more for large whole eggplants). Brush or spray any cut surfaces with oil and a little balsamic vinegar and cook until tender. Generally allow 4-6 minutes per side for slices, 10 minutes for half slices and 12-16 minutes for whole ones. Brush the eggplant slices with a little extra olive oil and balsamic vinegar while cooling. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with, herbs, spices, crushed garlic and red pepper flakes.
Aubergine can be diced up and fried before being added to a dish such as ratatouille. Slices and halves of small eggplants can also be fried. The main issue is that the eggplant soaks up an incredible amount of oil as it cooks. There are several ways to prevent this:
Eggplant is very well suited to grilling either whole, halved or sliced. This tends to eliminate the oiliness of fried eggplant. Brush all cut surfaces with extra virgin olive oil before cooking.
Directly grilling whole eggplant - When cooked whole directly over flames on the grill or barbecue the eggplant flesh takes on the charred flavour from the flame and from the skin being charred. The flesh can then be scooped out and used for various dishes. Whole eggplants can be charred over the burners on a gas cook-top. Use tongs to rotate them as they cook. Whole eggplants can be grilled on the grate of a barbecue, usually with the lid closed to get that extra smoky taste.
Directly grilling half eggplants - Simply place the eggplants with the cut side down initially and grill very briefly. Finish off with the skin side down. Test for the tenderness of the flesh. Pepper, herbs and spices can be added to the cut surface while the bottom side with the skin is cooking.
Directly grilling thick eggplant slices - Usually slices are grilled in skewers, in wire baskets or wrapped in foil (either open or closed packages).