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Fry Eggplants like a Sicilian Mama

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Frying sliced eggplants is one of the trickiest things to get right in Italian cuisine. See how Eleonora Consoli, an authority on Sicilian cuisine, does it in her own kitchen on Mount Etna in Sicily and you will never end up with oily sponges ever again!

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Frying eggplant is one of the trickiest things in Italian cuisine. The damned things will just drink up any oil you throw at them, ending up immobilizing your guests in bed for weeks like a python who ate a dog and can't move for days. But an eggplant properly fried is a marvel of soft, delicate flesh in a tasty browned capsule. I've tried many ways to fry eggplants - in a non-stick saucepan with little oil, in the oven, by pressing them to extract any oil they soaked up. Everybody has some idea of how to do it, but when it comes to knowing how to fry an eggplant like a Sicilian mama, the buck stops with Eleonora Consoli, Mrs Consoli, from Viagrande on Mount Etna in Sicily, writes cookbooks for Sicilian readers, and she has her own food show on Sicilian TV. I managed to attend a private cooking class in her home near Mount Etna and asked her to show me how to fry an eggplant.

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As you'll see, it is very simple to fry an eggplant correctly and obtain light, thoroughly cooked eggplants in a crispy exterior. Still, there is a thousand and one way to get it wrong. Just see how it's done:

 

Peeling & Slicing the Eggplant
Use black-skinned eggplants for best taste. The skin is left on as it becomes very tasty when fried, but not so much with violet and white eggplants.

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Wash the eggplants, then cut the stem off as well as any damaged parts.

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Slice the eggplant vertically. This is very important as crosswise slices would let the eggplant fibers soak up the oil. Start by cutting a skin slice and discard it...

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... then proceed with further vertical slices until you reach the other end.

 

Salting, Washing & Straining the Eggplants
Many times I tried to salt aubergines before frying them, to draw out the bitter waters as Italian cookbooks have it. And everytime I had to throw them because they tasted like salted cod. But Mrs Consoli explains this is an essential step, I think mostly because dryer aubergine slices will soak up less oil by osmosis. Here is how to do it:

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Rub each slice with salt on each side. Do not be afraid to use too much salt.

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Leave the aubergine slices in a colander for 30 to 60 minutes. You'll see big drops of water form on the aubergines - that's eggplant juice drawn out by the salt through osmosis.

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The problem is that this process very much salts the aubergine. Since the water goes from inside the slices and out, you'd think no salt would enter, but it does. Now you have to wash each slice under running water and rub it, squeeze, strain, then wash again. If you don't do this, you won't be able to eat your aubergines.

 

Frying the Eggplant
Now for the frying. You'd think that this being Italian cuisine an Italian home, they would use olive oil, right? Wrong. Olive oil does not withstand high temperature as well as other, less romantic oils. Professional chefs use either clarified butter or, like Mrs Consoli, grapeseed oil for high temperature frying. If you think that's not healthy, I'm not sure what business you have reading an article about deep-fried food, but know that Extra Virgin Olive Oil's health benefits disappear quick as the oil is heated up to its smoking point. Some grapeseed oils can withstand almost 400F°/200°C before starting to smoke, and they are clearly the right choice for this.

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Heat at least 1liter/quart grapeseed oil in a deep frying pan. Bring the temperature to about 170°C/330°F. You can drop little pieces of eggplant or bread in the oil - when it starts bubbling fiercely, your bath is ready.

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Rest eggplant slices one by one in the hot oil using pliers. DO NOT drop them in the hot oil or you'll finish the meal in the emergency ward. Just add as many slices as will fit in the pan's surface - you'll do the rest later.

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Do not let the oil heat enough to start smoking, but do not let it drop down too much either.

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Using kitchen pliers, check regularly the bottom side of the eggplant until they are nicely browned, then turn them upside down to cook the other side.

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Remove the now cooked eggplant slices and lay them on abundant kitchen paper to remove as much oil as possible. Don't hesitate to carefully press with a quadruple layer of paper on top and press a little to extract more oil. Cover to keep warm and proceed like before with the remaining slices.

So to fry an eggplant like a Sicilian mama:

  • Use black-skinned eggplants for better taste
  • Leave the skin on
  • Cut it lengthwise
  • Sprinkle with salt to draw the moisture out
  • Wash and strain like a towel each slice one after the other
  • Use heat-tolerant oil for frying, NOT olive oil
  • Use a pile of paper towels to remove excess frying oil from the fried eggplant slices

Eleonora Consoli [haylayawNAWnawrah KONsawlee]
www.cucinadelsole.it
info@cucinadelsole.it
Via Contemare 9
95029 - Viagrande Catania
Italia
Tel/Fax +39-095-7890116 or +39-095-7899091

Published 15/10/2007
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29 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by zk
  • on: 15/10/2007
On a hot summer day, if you live in a relatively dry area, you can try and put the eggplants in the sun for two hours.After frying them you will obtain, the most wonderful crispy eggplants. My aunt always make them like this. I live near the sea, the weather is relatively humid and I never managed to fry them them correctly. I will soon try Eleonora's recipe.In Lebanon, we serve fried eggplant, minced meat, tomato sauce covered by a layer of yogurt with garlic decorated with pine nuts, a real treat.Thank you fx for this wonderful blog
  • #2
  • Comment by Saxit
  • on: 15/10/2007
Cutting them lengthwise is ingenious - I will try it out.Though I don't see the point in salting them to dry them out then drenching them in water :) But I guess I'll try that too.
  • #3
  • Comment by Ruth
  • on: 18/10/2007
Great article, now I just have to figure out how to get my family to eat eggplant without me having to "disguise" them in sauces or stews!  In the meantime, I'll bookmark this for when I'm home alone.Thanks for the tips.
  • #4
  • Comment by Macha
  • on: 18/10/2007
Lovely. I tried it today and it worked really well!
  • #5
  • Comment by Frances
  • on: 08/11/2007
We recently visited my cousin in Randazzo, Sicily.  She prepared wonderful foods for us but because we didn't speak the same language, I don't know what all of the foods were.  In the first course, there was an item that was cut into a wedge shape resembling a piece of pie but of course it wasn't.  Do you know what it could have possibly been and how I would prepare it?  I am going to attempt your fried eggplant as that was one of the selections in our first course.  Thank you very much for your help.
  • #6
  • Comment by Cynthia
  • on: 26/11/2007
The salting makes the eggplant less bitter. I would never have thought to rinse the salt off with water, either, but I will try it.  I usually just wipe the slices down after salting and the juices seem to bear away most (but by no means all) of the salt.What is your feeling on dredging in flour and/or dipping in egg? What's the final use for the fried eggplant prepared Mrs. Consoli's way here? In the past I have used flour/egg to give a little bit of crustiness and to keep the eggplant slices more distinct when I make a baked 'parmesan'. When I was growing up in the US, fried eggplant always came with a heavy bread-crumb coating that soaked up a lot of oil.. ugh!Frances, did your 'pie' have greens and/or cheese? I think there is a stuffed pie (like a round calzone) called 'scacciata', with various fillings. I think this is also the name of a kind of cheese. Where we live, 'scacciata' is a kind of dense focaccia-like bread, or thick pizza, but it is not filled. The regional names can be confusing and can change even from town to town. Literally, 'scacciare' (ska-CHAR-ay) means to expel or drive away..  but I think the origin is most likely in "schiacciare" (SKEE-a-CHAR-ay) to squish/beat down, which is what you do to the focaccia with all its dimples).  In Tuscany the (non-stuffed) version is most definitely usually called 'schiacciata' or even 'ciaccina' (cha-CHEE-na)
  • #7
  • Comment by Marlene Butkiewicz
  • on: 23/02/2008
Thank you for the detailed clear instructions!
  • #8
  • Comment by jensenly
  • on: 30/06/2008
Great post.  Simple, yet those tiny details (slicing vertically, grapeseed oil, etc.) make all the difference.  I am now not afraid of the dreaded, soggy, oily fried eggplant!  Thanks, Dr. Aubergine!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 06/07/2008
Jensenly, indeed Madame Aubergine is one particular lady, but if you do it her way, she'll reward you with that wet, caramelized flesh.
  • #10
  • Comment by Rick Jones
  • on: 25/07/2008
awesome, I can't wait to cook like a Sicilian mama!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 26/07/2008
Rick, Sicilian cookery is very rewarding if you can get proper vegetables, and it's quite economical too!
  • #12
  • Comment by Salvatrice Eiras
  • on: 18/09/2008
The pictorial was wonderful and vivid. Thank you for the play by play. I have forwarded this to some of my friends who would benefit from this.
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 18/09/2008
Mrs Eiras thank you for your visit and glad you liked my article about eggplant frying!
  • #14
  • Comment by Joseph Ramos
  • on: 28/08/2009
Dear Mrs. Consoli,


Unfortunately, I did not have the Grapeseed oil. I used, instead, Canola oil which seemed to fry the eggplant as close as your recipie. How many grades of "Grapeseed oil are there?, and which grade do I purchase?, since the only one I was able to find was "Roland" brand Grapeseed Oil  which is a product of France ($10.00 for 1 pint. 0.9 FL OZ.)that I will be using soon.

I will plan to stop and say "Buongiorno" on my next stop to your beautiful country of Sicilia.

Respectfully,

Mr. J. Ramos
  • FX's answer→ Hello Joseph, in fact I think you can use really cheap grapeseed oil, the importance is really the highest temperature your oil can take before splitting into all sorts of unsavory organic compounds. Perhaps you can try and use a high-temperature thermometer to see what temperature you can get your type of grapeseed oil without breaking?

  • #16
  • Comment by neighborhood mom
  • on: 12/09/2009
I am by not means a gourmet chef, but I do dredge my eggplant in egg and  breadcrumbs (parmesan) and serve it w/ whole wheat spagetti and marinara sauce. I also fry it in vegetable oil until lightly browned on the edges. I usually squueze it with paper towels as soon as it comes out of the oil, which helps alot. The key is making sure the oil is consistantly hot.
  • #17
  • Comment by Claire
  • on: 14/10/2009
My daughter found your website and emailed it to me.  I am THRILLED that she did. My late mother's family originated in Sicily ~ Agrigento, actually.  I have always longed to visit and perhaps see if I still have relatives there.
Having access to your website almost brings me there.  So my heart is now happy.  Thank you for giving me a place that is so dear to my heart.

Sincerely,
Claire McKenna
P.S.: My mother's maiden name was D'Amico
  • FX's answer→ Thanks a lot Claire and have fun exploring your Sicilian roots!

  • #19
  • Comment by debbie vitale
  • on: 17/10/2009
do you know if there is an american outlet where ms. Consoli's cookbooks can be purchased??
  • FX's answer→ You can order them from Italy, ibs.it

  • #21
  • Comment by Danny
  • on: 06/11/2009
Hi FX, this is s great website/blog. I am a Siculo-Australian - Australian born with Sicilian parents. This is exactly how my mum fries eggplant. Such a great article on a simple topic. And those meatballs in lemon leaves – I grew up on them (but BBQed not baked). I think many people don’t realise how the simplest things in Italian cooking make all the difference.

I love cooking and eating. And you have inspired to start my own blog. My parents have many old Sicilian recipes (they are 80 & 71 years old) which I would love to share with the world. Further, I have friends with mums with great recipes - the kind of dishes you will never get at any restaurants. For example, I have a friend with an East Timorese mum and Goan dad – his mum cooks some unbelievable curries and much more. I have another friend who is Lebanese – his mum cooks spectacular dishes beyond shish kebabs.

So I am going to do it – I will start a website/blog. Do you mind if I email you asking for advice/tips? I don’t want to bore your readers with my questions here.

Anyway – thanks for the great recipes, spectacular pictures but most of all for the inspiration. I will email you soon – if that’s OK?    
  • #22
  • Comment by Linda
  • on: 27/04/2010
thank you for these great tips.  I will try once again in my quest to successfully fry eggplant like my mother-in-law in southern italy.  I've watched and watched her but could never duplicate it.  Your line about the python was hilarious and oh-so-familiar!  that happened to me the last time I tried it.  Thanks again!
  • #23
  • Comment by nameEvelyn C. Palumbo
  • on: 25/07/2010
I will try your receipe, it sounds good.   thank you..
  • #24
  • Comment by tonicervezas
  • on: 15/10/2010
Fantástico y utilísimo consejo y excelente redacción y explicación. Sólo me queda dar las gracias, quitarme el sombrero y acercarme a la huerta mañana sábado por la mañana a por un par de hermosas berenjenas y deleitarme con la receta. Lo único que no voy a poder utilizar es aceite de uva. ¿Dónde podría conseguirlo en Madrid?

Muchas gracias de nuevo y un afectuoso saludo!
  • #25
  • Comment by Rosanna bonnet
  • on: 06/03/2011
This is a like a  Dream come true!!!!!!
For the first time in my life I can enjoy a fried
aubergine, crispy!!!!
Grazie!!!!
  • #26
  • Comment by john averna
  • on: 03/06/2011
I LOVE EGGPLANT DISHES AND AM THRILLED  TO LEARN A NEW WAY TO   PREPARE  MY FAVORITE VEGETABLE.   THE AVERNAS COME FROM   CALTENNESETTA AND HAVE  DEEP ROOTS  IN  
\

la bella sicilia.      Tante grazzi.      John Averna
  • #27
  • Comment by Jillian Alesci
  • on: 07/06/2011
My late husband was Sicilian and born there.  My mother in law cooked eggplants.  i will try your recipe.  If you are familiar with this surname send me an email
  • #28
  • Comment by Lorna Kellogg
  • on: 31/07/2011
A great article for someone who has never fried an eggplant.  I had heard about salting or soaking, but didn't know exactly what to do.  Also, I never suspected that which way the eggplant was sliced would make any difference.  I would definitely return to you when looking for more info.
  • #29
  • Comment by Sandi
  • on: 19/08/2011
Love eggplant, but always am looking for a better way.  I found it here.  It turned out wonderfully!  Thank you.

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