Creamy and luscious, stir-fried aubergine in plum sauce is a dish to die for. This recipe tells you how to achieve the desired texture using a minimum of oil.
I almost forgot about plum sauce until the other day a mouth-watering recipe reminded me of this versatile Chinese condiment (By the way, it was “Sticky chicken drumsticks in Chinese plum sauce” created by one of my favourite food bloggers). It used to be my favourite sauce for aubergine stir-fry. Last weekend I found some super fresh aubergine in an outdoor market and a jar of plum sauce in the supermarket. We had “Stir-fried aubergine in plum sauce” three days in a row! It was so delicious!
I have very sweet memories about aubergine. I remember watching my dad cooking this deep purple vegetable in our tiny kitchen. He would firstly coat it with flour batter and a little ground Sichuan pepper. Then deep-fry it before stir frying it with garlic, soy sauce, rice wine, etc. He’d always pick up one piece of deep-fried aubergine with chopsticks, then gently put in my mouth to taste. I still have vivid recollection of the simple pleasure I got in those precious moments.
However, as I grew older, deep-fried aubergine became nothing more than a childhood memory, simply because deep frying is not my preferred cooking method, and I always try to reduce the volume of oil in dishes as much as possible. Aubergine is, unfortunately, a vegetable often cooked in quite a lot of oil in order to achieve a softer, creamier texture. If stir-fried with just a little oil, it often stays hard and rubbery, very unpleasant to eat. For me it was a real dilemma until I discovered two methods to change the texture of aubergine by pre-cooking it before stir-frying.
Firstly I tried steaming and it worked! If you get the timing right, aubergine pieces will come out soft but not too mushy. You might find it a bit watery, but the moisture will be easily evaporated during stir-frying. The second method it to microwave, which will give the aubergine a nice texture and is less watery than steaming. It is worth noting that you need to cook the aubergine chunks in small volumes each time otherwise you might find them softened unevenly. With pre-cooked aubergine in hand, what you need is just one tablespoon of oil for making this scrumptious aubergine in plum sauce.
Apart from a creamy texture, a rich sauce is the other key to a plate of delicious aubergine. Plum sauce is often used as a dipping sauce for deep-fried dishes like spring rolls. It’s sweet, fruity, vinegary and a little spicy. I find it ideal for a vegetable like aubergine which doesn’t have a distinct taste on its own. I also use lots of garlic in my recipe as it’s the classic company for aubergine. Other ingredients, such as soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and spring onion, are used to balance the sweetness of plum sauce and to create a more sophisticated flavour. Adding an extra zing to this dish, fresh chilli is optional, but highly recommended.