The eggplant is spicy and flavourful (thanks to the Taiwan chilli bean sauce base), while the process of first deep-frying and then braising the eggplant in a traditional claypot gives it a smooth, almost creamy texture that makes every mouthful a delight to bite into!
Pour some hot water over the dried cuttlefish to soften it. Then remove the transparent bone that runs down the centre, the hard beak (mouth) and the eyes from the dried cuttlefish.
Cut the dried cuttlefish into tiny pieces and place in a bowl. Then add the Chinese Rice Wine to the bowl and let it soak while preparing other ingredients.
Wash the pork and mince it. Add the marinade ingredients and allow to marinate for 20 minutes.
Wash the mushroom and soak in hot water until soft. Squeeze out the water, then remove the stalk and cut into tiny pieces. Keep the mushroom soaking water for later.
Remove the skin from the garlic and rinse. Chop the garlic finely.
Mix the cornflour slurry ingredients well, and set aside.
Wash the egg plant and cut off the stem end. Then cut into 6 cm sticks lengthwise. Coat the egg plant with cornflour just before deep frying.Tip: Coating the eggplant with cornflour helps prevent the oil from splattering. See also Tip 5 on how to prevent the eggplant from oxidising.
Frying the Crispy Garlic
In a wok, heat up 6 TBsp of oil over medium heat. Once the oil bubbles, add in the chopped garlic. Fry until light golden, then turn off the heat. The oil should continue to cook the garlic until it turns golden. You need to control the heat well so it won't get burnt (see Tip 6).
Once done, pour the crispy garlic over a sieve to separate the garlic from the oil. Once the garlic is cool, store in an airtight container. Save the garlic oil for later.
In a wok, add in 300 ml of oil over medium high heat. Once heated, shake off the excess flour from the eggplant and deep fry it until the colour starts to change. Remove and transfer to a plate lined with a paper kitchen towel to drain the excess oil. Transfer the oil to a bowl, and clean the wok with a kitchen towel.
Add in 3 TBSP of garlic oil and heat over medium fire, then add the chopped garlic and fry till aromatic but not browned.
Add in the chilli bean paste and mix well.
Next, add in the minced meat and stir fry for a minute.
Then add in the mushroom and cuttlefish (including the Chinese Rice Wine). Stir fry until aromatic.
Add in 200 ml water to bean paste mixture and bring to a boil. Then add in the egg plant and mix well.
Transfer the meat mixture to a claypot and braise for 10 mins or until the eggplants are soft.
Add in the cornflour mixture to thicken the gravy. Once the gravy thickens, garnish with spring onions, crispy garlic and chilli (optional) and serve hot with a bowl of hot steaming jasmine rice.
Dried cuttlefish is available from the supermarkets and wet markets. I like to get mine from the dried provision shops in my neighbourhood wet market, as you can pick the one you want. It is also available in pre-package form in the supermarkets.
The dried cuttlefish (right) looks similar to dried octopus (left), but dried octopus is larger and has textured tentacles, whereas the dried cuttlefish is quite smooth so that's how you can tell the difference!
I prefer to buy Chinese or Japanese eggplants for this dish. They are usually long and thin with a slightly rounded tip, whereas the fat globe eggplants are shorter and fatter. The Chinese eggplants are dark lavender in colour whereas the Japanese ones are lighter in color, but they are similar in taste. Compared to the fat globe eggplants, Chinese and Japanese eggplants have a thinner skin and a m0re delicate flavour, and yield a smooth and creamy texture after cooking. The fat globe eggplants tend to be slightly bitter as they have tiny seeds which tend to give the egg plant a bitter taste, and they are harder and not as creamy after cooking due to the thicker skin. I usually use Chinese and Japanese eggplants are best for frying, whereas I find the fat globe eggplants are better for roasting.
If you cannot get hold of the Taiwanese chilli bean paste, you can also substitute with Fermented Soy Bean Paste (also known as Fermented Yellow Bean or Tau Cheo in Hokkien) and add some chilli paste according to your preferred level of spiciness! For more information about the brand of Tau Cheo and other Chinese sauces we use, please read our article on Essential Chinese Sauces and Condiments in our pantry!
Once the eggplant is cut, the flesh is exposed to air and will oxidise and darken in colour, and it will make the dish look less appetising. To prevent the eggplant from darkening, try to avoid leaving the cut eggplant for too long. Instead cut it only in the final step just before you are ready to cook. If for some reason you need to do the cutting in advance, you can try briefly soaking the eggplant in water with a bit of lemon juice. The lemon will prevent the eggplant from oxidising so quickly.
The colour you are aiming for with crispy garlic (and crispy shallots for that matter) is golden, not brown. Once the crispy garlic turns brown, it is actually slightly burnt already and will have an unpleasant bitter taste. To get the crispy garlic exactly right takes some skill, which only comes with practice! But here are some tips to guide you along the way.
When frying the garlic, watch it closely. Once the garlic starts to turn light golden, turn off the heat immediately.
The oil will continue to cook the garlic. After a few minutes, if the garlic is still not sufficiently golden, you can turn back up the heat for about 10 seconds more to reheat the oil, then turn it off again and allow the hot oil to continue to cook the garlic. By this time, the garlic should start to take on a nice golden hue.
A word of caution: if you wait for the garlic turns golden before you turn off the fire, the hot oil will actually continue to cook the garlic further until it may turn out browner than you wish and have a burnt taste. It only takes a few seconds to get the garlic burnt, and you will have dump it and prepare another fresh lot. Controlling the fire carefully to ensure that the garlic is just golden, not brown (ie burnt) is the key to success when it comes to perfecting your crispy garlic! d.
Once the crispy garlic is done, use a metal sieve to separate the garlic from the oil. Once both are cool, store the crispy garlic in an airtight / glass jar so it retains its crispiness, and save the remaining fragrant garlic oil for frying other dishes!
The purpose of this section is to provide information about dietary information about this recipe based on our best knowledge. However, we are not certified healthcare professionals so please seek the advice of your nutritionist or doctor before proceeding to use these recipes.