The name is an almost literal translation of yú xiāng qiézi [魚香茄子] which means “fish fragrant aubergine”. However, there is no actual fish in yú xiāng qiézi. It is so-called due to the spices and flavours used in the dish, and which are often added to fish dishes, specifically spring onions, ginger and garlic.
The other main ingredients are soy sauce, chili bean paste, sugar and black or white Chinese rice vinegar, though some chefs may spice it up further with extra chillies and Sichuan pepper.
The preparation is fairly simple. To start you’ll need an aubergine chopped into cubes. The size is not particularly important, but 1 - 2 cm cubes are satisfactory.
Next grate about 1 tablespoon each of ginger and garlic and place in a bowl. Thinly slice a spring onion and place in another bowl.
For the sauce mix together 1-2 tablespoons of chili bean paste, a dash of light or dark soy and a dash of black or white Chinese rice vinegar - no more than a teaspoon of each. Stir well and mix in a teaspoon of sugar. Also have a little stock ready to hand.
If you want to spice it up a little, have a few Sichuan peppercorns and a thinly sliced chilli set to one side.
Aubergines can be a little bitter, and it may be advisable to draw out these bitter juices by sprinkling the cubes of aubergine with salt, leaving for twenty minutes and then wiping them dry with a paper towel.
Like many Sichuan dishes, yú xiāng qiézi is quite oily. This is made even more so given the amount of oil needed to fry the aubergine. However, for a truly authentic dish it is quite necessary.
Pour a good amount of oil into a wok and bring it to a temperature where the aubergine sizzles when added. Some chefs use enough oil such that the aubergine is just covered, or even deep fry the cubes of aubergine, but you may like to use a little less if watching your waistline!
Once the aubergine is cooked, lift it from the oil if deep frying or pour the entire contents into a bowl if shallow frying.
Next add a small amount of oil to the wok, perhaps with a dash of sesame oil for extra flavour, and fry the Sichuan pepper if using, then add the chillies, ginger and garlic. Return the aubergine, and any reserved oil if you were shallow frying, to the wok and continue stirring.
Then add the chili bean sauce mixture and stir well. Add a small amount of stock if necessary and cook for a few minutes to allow the aubergine to draw in the flavours.
Finally add the sliced spring onions and stir before pouring the contents into a dish. Serve with plain steamed rice.
A classic Sichuan dish that I’ve prepared for many Chinese people without any criticism. In fact many express surprise that a westerner can cook such an authentic dish.