Deep-frying is one of those techniques for which I welcome tips from others. As with any new-to-me cooking technique, I take my time. Thin slices of zucchini are a good start. Deep-fried, wow, delicious. A light coating of potato starch or cornstarch adds a crisp, light texture. Sprinkle the slices with salt as soon as they come out of the oil, then serve them with a dipping sauce or slip into brothy soups or omelets for a rich, intriguing element.
Do the same with eggplant — even if you don’t think you like it, try it fried. I am already looking forward to the long, crisp, skinny strips sold at the Venice Club stand at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. They serve the deep-fried goodness with a cup of zesty marinara sauce for dipping.
A bowl of amazing fried eggplant, called mizore gake, served at Yakitori Totto in Manhattan, propelled me into the kitchen.
Golden, pudding-tender slices of eggplant rest in a sweet, spicy broth surrounded by bouncy nameko mushrooms and crispy-chewy mochi nuggets tucked under a pile of aromatic greens. Making the broth proves simple — especially since I rely on instant dashi purchased from a local Asian market. At its simplest, dashi, Japan’s most basic cooking stock, combines sea kelp (kombu) simmered in water. Easy enough to do at home. More common is the addition of dried fish known as bonito; it’s in the powdered dashi I rely on for speed. Low sodium chicken broth makes a fine substitute in this dish.
The other ingredients that flavor the broth, such as soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar are readily available.
The tricky part of this dish is deep-frying thick slices of eggplant to tender, creamy goodness. First, salt the eggplant to draw out some of the water. After standing, it’s important to pat the eggplant absolutely dry before immersing in the oil. Same goes for nearly anything you’re frying — use care to prevent dangerous hot splatters.
Use a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan or wok that holds heat well. Have a paper towel-lined tray nearby, as well as a slotted spoon or wire skimmer. It’s smart to have a large box of kitchen salt handy should you need to douse flames. Of course, never put water into hot oil.
Always use the best oil you can afford. I prefer safflower or sunflower oil for its high heat cooking properties and odorless frying. Rice bran oil, peanut oil and expeller-pressed canola oil also are good. Ordinary vegetable oil, or canola oil, overheat easily and give off a fishy smell. To regulate the oil temperature, I recommend investing in a good deep-fry thermometer.
The frying oil can be cooled, strained and bottled to use again. Think about the flavor the oil might have picked up in the frying. For example, oil used to fry vegetables could be used later to fry fish — but not vice versa.