Fried eggplant parmesan can be a fabulous thing. Unfortunately, more often than not, most versions usually end up over-sauced and cheese laden. By the time they bake off in the oven and absorb all of the other ingredients, they resemble swollen cheese-packed tomatoey eggplant sponge cakes. Over wrought and heavy handed with the happy crunch factor lost in translation. Trust me, I've hammered my share doing that very thing. Sometimes, less is more.
It's been a great season for eggplants at the farmers market. While some things have suffered from our incredibly wet summer, eggplants are everywhere.
Redeeming the crunch factor.
Fry it once, use it twice.
After slicing a bulbous Casey County globe eggplant into 1/2' slices, I halved a few slender Jessamine County Asian eggplants and tossed them into a colander with the sliced globes. To leach out some of the bitterness, I salted the eggplant slices and let them drip/drain for 30 minutes before rinsing them under cold water and thoroughly patting them dry. I set up a standard breading station for my eggplant-palooza. Highly seasoned flour (salt, pepper, garlic powder) in one dish, beaten egg wash in a second dish, and parmigiano reggiano-studded panko bread crumbs flecked with minced chives, rosemary, basil, parsley, and thyme in a third dish.
Using the wet hand/dry hand method, I dusted the slices in the flour, dipped them through the egg wash, dredged them in the herbed breadcrumbs, and set them aside.
Simple Eggplant Parmesan.
After bringing 1/2 cup vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a cast iron skillet, I carefully slipped the breaded eggplant slices into the sizzling oil and shallow fried them until they were golden brown before removing them to a dish towel to drain. I wiped out the skillet, slid the crispy eggplant cutlets back into the skillet, shingled thin slices of fresh mozzarella cheese over each piece of eggplant, nestled Boyle County tomatoes (still on the vine) into the cheese, slid the skillet into a 450 degree
oven to bake for 20 minutes, and finished the deal with a quick spin under the broiler for the last couple of minutes. When the tomatoes started to blister and collapse over the oozing cheese, I pulled the skillet from the oven and let the simple riff on eggplant parmesan settle down before finishing with fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and flaky sea salt.
Although blanketed in the creamy melted mozzarella cheese, the eggplant remained crisp from the high heat of the oven and cast iron skillet. Slippery gooey crunch. Where's the sauce? It took a mere whisper for the incredibly ripe blistered tomatoes to pop open and seep their sweet warm juices over the bubbling cheese, spilling into puddles around the charred edges of the mozzarella and eggplant. While the tomatoes provided just enough subtle sweet acidity to cut through the rich cheese, the basil added hits of freshness. Simple. Fresh. Perfect.
As a bright side kick for the eggplant parmesan, I breaded and fried the slender Asian eggplant halves until they were beautifully browned, dabbed them with a dish towel to soak up any excess oil, and topped the tubular slices with fresh baby arugula before finishing with a spritz of fresh meyer lemon juice, lemon slices, salt, coarsely cracked black pepper, and and crisped parmigiano fricos. In true Milanese fashion, the lemons and slightly bitter baby arugula countered the fried earthy meatiness of the eggplant with biting acidic freshness. Light. Bright. Fabulous.
Two for one.
Embrace the crunch.