Chipotle Cornmeal Eggplant Fries

Eggplantocalypse 2012 continues: according to my farmer, Betsey, eggplants are “just at their peak” this week. Which might explain the 6 pounds that showed up in my CSA bag yesterday, to join the 1 and 1/2 lb monster already lurking in the fridge. I’ve learned, in the preceding 4- and 5- and 6-lb eggplant weeks, that I need to tackle them head-on, before they even reach the refrigerator, in order to have a hope of getting through them all before another massive pile arrives on Wednesday. I’ve already made antipasto, pickled eggplant, roasted tomato & eggplant soup, baba ganoush and even eggplant “bacon.” It was time for something different. And even though lots of folks have been leaving recipe links on my various Facebook eggplantopia posts, there’s a small problem: I don’t like eggplant.

So, I did what any modern cook does, when in a, um, pickle: I Googled. Specifically, I Googled “eggplant recipes for people who hate eggplant.” And lots of stuff came up, mind you: eggplant isn’t chocolate, after all. Most people seem to have either a love or a hate relationship with the purple orbs; maybe it’s because they are so pretty, but even the people I’ve talked to who don’t like eggplant always seem to be trying to like it. Like there is a magic Eggplant Nirvana out there where eggplant is beautiful and delicious (as if). One of the first links that caught my eye in the eggplant-haters Google Club was cornmeal crusted eggplant fries by Cozy Kitchen: I mean, I like fries. I like cornmeal. “Crusted” is always a good term, especially when a soft/slimy texture is one of my issues with eggplant. And the very first lines of the post read “I’ve hated eggplant since infancy...” A woman after my own heart.

So, was this Eggplant Nirvana? Not exactly: they were good, don’t get me wrong. I ate a lot of them. The panko was crispy-crunchy and the chipotle was smoky-spicy and the cornmeal was corny and the eggplant? Not much more than a vehicle for all of the above. After all, nearly anything is good when you add breading + spice + crunch + fat. Hard to go wrong there. They were still a bit eggplanty (though the pre-salt definitely did help to mellow their flavor and remove bitterness, as everyone has been telling me) but, hot out of the oil and slathered with homemade ketchup? Even the Eggplantphobe Husband admitted, sheepishly, that they were good. And when we’re talking eggplant, “good,” my friends, is definitely good enough.

Adapted from Cornmeal Crusted Eggplant Fries by Adrianna at A Cozy Kitchen

Chipotle Cornmeal Eggplant Fries

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb eggplant
  • about 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 eggs, beaten + a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 tsp ground chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 quart vegetable oil (I used safflower)

METHODS

  1. Cover a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel. Cut eggplant into French-fry shapes (I made mine long, thin batons) and spread out on the baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to “sweat” for about 30 minutes. Dry eggplant with another clean kitchen towel.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine panko, corn meal, chipotle and oregano. Toss well. Dip eggplant slices first in beaten egg, then coat liberally in breadcrumb mixture and line up on the baking tray (remove the kitchen towel).
  3. Once you have completed one tray of eggplant, start heating the oil in a large skillet: the oil will be 350 – 375 degrees F when ready for frying, or shimmering, but just shy of smoking. When the oil is hot enough, add eggplant, one piece at a time (so as to maintain the fragile breading) until the skillet is full, but not over-crowded (you should have room to turn over the individual fries.) Fry for about 2 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown, then flip fries and continue to fry for about 1 more minute, or until fries are nicely brown all over. Remove from oil with a skimmer or tongs and transfer to paper to drain. Repeat until all fries are cooked. Serve hot with homemade ketchup and pumpkin ale.

Serves 6 – 8. One pound of eggplant yields a LOT of fries: more than 2 people should eat, really. Oops. If you are not feeding a crowd, I recommend cutting the recipe in half.

OPTIONS

  1. The breading makes a nicely spiced, but not overly spicy fry. I did not add any salt to the breading itself, as I use a lot in the sweating step, and you can always salt the fries after cooking (but it’s hard to take away salt if there is too much). I found them nicely flavored without being salty.
  2. In the original recipe, Adrianna bakes some and fries some, and notes that “obviously, the fried tasted better.” But if you can’t bring yourself to waste a quart of oil (it’s not easy for me, either: the things I’ll do in the pursuit of edible eggplant), check out her recipe for baking instructions.
  3. It’s easy to mix up the flavorings in the breading to whatever flavors you like: curry? garlic? cayenne? Go nuts. Just keep the cornmeal, or if you don’t have any, try a bit of whole-grain flour: you need something with a finer texture than the panko to make sure you get a good, solid covering on the eggplant.

STORE

Best eaten fresh.

SEASON

Eggplantocalypse.

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