Today’s eggplant taste test is a fun one. We are testing two different factors…
They tell you to salt your eggplant (once you have cubed it or cut it in slices) and let it rest for 30 minutes in a strainer in your sink, so the bitterness leaves it. Does that make a difference?
AND you are told to brush olive oil on your slices before putting them in the oven. What difference does that make to the texture and taste?
I conducted a similar test with eggplant, but that was on a grill. I already have an idea (hypotheses!) of what will happen, but I am curious to compare these methods.
Eggplant Prep instructions:
First, to make your eggplant stand out, it is said to salt it before cooking. Here is what Fine Cooking magazine has to say on the subject of purging, as it is called:
“…: it pulls out juices that carry bitter flavors, and it collapses the air pockets in the eggplant’s sponge-like flesh, thus preveniting it from absorbing too much oil and getting greasy.” (I properly cite sources.)
So, once you cut up your eggplant in the desired shape, throw a good amount of salt on all sides and let them sit in a strainer in the sink. Some say an hour is ideal, but I have also heard that purging eggplant only 30 minutes works fine. Something this blog can test another day (or you can test it…stop making me do all the work!).
Then rinse* the eggplant with water and then pat dry with paper towels.
*UPDATE: I read in another recipe NOT to wash the eggplant with water, because it will absorb the water (sounds obvious). But I’m confused…is it prudent to leave the saltiness in the eggplant by not running water through the eggplants? Our instructions state to pat dry the slices with paper towel (a lot of them) anyway, so does it matter if you wash them? That will be another experiment on this blog in the future!
Back to the experiment…
I plan on purging half of my test eggplants today. Ideally (aka my hypothesis is), that this half will taste less bitter and not absorb as much oil.
Speaking of absorbing oil, in my last test one of the attributes of the grilled eggplants was sogginess, which wasn’t necessarily what I was going for. Mushy eggplant will absolutely work in some recipes, but not as a stand-alone vege on your dish. Therefore, we are testing the application of oil on the sliced eggplant.
Applying oil (infused with garlic, obviously!) to the eggplant slices BEFORE they go in the oven vs. applying oil AFTER they are finished cooking. We’re sticking with EVOO.
So today we will have four test groups of eggplant. Below the numbers in the picture correspond to each group:
A) No oil, no purging: 6, 9, 10
B) No oil, purging: 7, 11, 12
C) Oil, no purging: 1, 2, 5
D) Oil, purging: 3, 4, 8
I baked at 400 for 20 minutes, flipping at the 10 minute mark. After they were finished, I applied oil to groups C and D.
For the taste test, even though it was just me and my girlfriend, I was able to do this blind. How? I wrote the group description on a small card and once I placed the eggplant (still knowing what group that eggplant belonged to) I put that plate over the corresponding card with its description.
Then I had my girlfriend (who did not know which plate was which) shuffle the plates around and around until I could not discern which belonged to which group any more.
After writing down the groups my gf and I preferred, we checked the cards under the plate. Here, in order from favorite to least favorite, were our preferences:
Salted & pre-baking oil > salted & no pre-baking oil > not salted & no pre-baking oil > not salted & pre-baking oil
Salted & no pre-baking oil > not salted & pre-baking oil > no difference with other groups
I found the eggplants that were salted (purged) before baking had a much better taste (less bitter, pleasant saltiness) and a nice texture (not too mushy, firm enough).
The veges from my favorite group did have oil applied before cooking, and these slices were certainly less mushy than the group of eggplants that were NOT salted yet were oiled before baking. The non-purged eggplant indeed absorbs more oil, making the taste good yet the texture too soggy.
While my two clear favorites were the eggplants that were purged, I preferred the one with that more oily taste because it was not overwhelming in sogginess.
I cannot speak for my GF, since her preferences were eggplants with essentially opposite characteristics. Perhaps for some people these subtle differences in eggplant preparation are negligible. That is an important result to note, since it is absolutely possible that many of this blog’s experiments test things that in reality are not significant and not worth the effort.
However, personally, the one factor that won was salting the eggplant before baking. I found a big difference between my first two preferred groups compared with the last two groups (not salted before baking). The application of oil, though, does not seem to factor in too strongly AFTER the eggplants are purged.
If you oil the eggplant before baking without purging, you will get mushy eggplants.
When purging eggplants, is there a difference if you wash the salted eggplants with water or not, assuming there is a pat down with paper towel after?
Is there a difference with purging time?