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Eggplant parmesan fail - what am I doing wrong?

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So I've made three batches of eggplant parmesan using three different methods of cooking the eggplant, and I count all three as fails. What I want is a method that cooks the eggplant so it's still firm and meaty - so that it could almost be mistaken for meat in texture - but not dry and leathery. I can't seem to get the texture right - it's either too dry or too soggy.

In all three methods I cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices, crumbed the eggplant slices and, after cooking them in various ways, layered and baked it for 30 minutes with the marinara sauce.

First batch I baked the eggplant instead of frying - I salted the eggplant for 30 minutes first, then crumbed them, then baked for 30 minutes turning halfway, then added the sauce/cheese etc and baked. The eggplant tasted nice but was too soggy.

Second batch I didn't salt the eggplant first as I was in a hurry. Breaded the slices then fried in a very small amount of oil - just sprayed the pan basically. The texture was closest to what I want but still a bit leathery, and the eggplant tasted bitter.

Third batch i salted first, crumbed then fried in a much larger amount of oil - about 1/2 inch deep in a wide skillet. I'm pretty sure the oil was hot enough. Cooked the slices until they were golden brown - about 1-2 minutes each side. Then layered and baked as usual. This one was a total disaster, the slices had basically disintegrated - way too sloppy.

I'm struggling to know what I'm doing wrong. The only thing i can think of with the last method - which is basically the standard method - was that I ran out of paper towels so that I didn't drain the fried slices of the oil before laying them, at least not as much as I'd like. Could this have made all the difference?

I read about another method, that involves salting/pressing the slices while pre-cooking them in an oven for 30 minutes, or a microwave for 3 minutes, then frying as per usual. I'm thinking of doing this plus the "minimum oil" flying method.

Any other ideas what I could try? Also, once I have the recipe sorted out I want to make a big batch so I can freeze and re-heat it (unbaked), so I need to take that into account.

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  1. When you say crumb, do you mean dip in flour, then egg, then crumbs?

    I found that the ONLY way to keep the eggplant crunchy on the outside and not soggy was to not cook it in sauce. Rather, a la minute, I take the cooked cutlet and right before serving, top it with hot sauce and shredded cheese and put it under a hot broiler for just a few seconds and then serve. It keeps the outside crisp, inside "meatlike."

    I'd also welcome other tips if anyone has any.

    4 Replies
    1. re: TrishUntrapped

      I do mine like this, too. I even pre-cook on a baking sheet sometimes, then freeze, and just pull a couple out at a time, dab some sauce and cheese, and bake. We really like them this way.

      1. re: TrishUntrapped

        I do mine very much like this.

        I slice it about 1/4" thick, then salt it, dry it with paper towels, then flour, buttermilk/egg, then a mix of flour/panko/grated parmesan/dried oregano.

        Fry until crisp and golden brown. Top while warm with a few shreds of mozzarella.

        Serve with warm marinara sauce at the table.

        1. re: TrishUntrapped

          Yes - dipped in flour, then egg, then panko crumbs.

          That's annoying about the sauce bit. But I don't have any choice about that, since the dish needs to be freezable.

          I'm thinking that the "minimum oil" method might be the best bet, with some tweaks (like salting the eggplant first).

          1. re: clairebbbear

            couldn't you follow jeanmarieok's suggestion but just freeze the sauce separately and thaw sauce just before you are ready to assemble the dish (just adding grated cheese at the last minute)?

        2. Hi Clairebear

          I usually cut my eggplant a bit thinner, to about 1/4 inch. I also both salt and weight them for an hour (at least) but up to three hours (in a colander, weighted with plates). Lots of recipes say this releases acidity but for me, the main thing is to release moisture.

          I do the flour, egg, crumb method, and always fry, using plenty of oil and adding some after each batch. I add parmesan to the crumb mix. And, as Trish noted, I sauce (if I sauce at all) last minute.

          8 Replies
          1. re: pinehurst

            Thank you. How much oil do you think you use? As I said, I'm not sure exactly how much I used, but the oil came up to about 1/2 inch in height, and so when I added the 1/2 inch eggplant slices, with displacement the oil ended up completely covering them.

            As i have not fried in this way before this freaked me out somewhat as it looked like WAY too much oil.

            1. re: clairebbbear

              I fry in deep oil, about 2 inches, the eggplant come out crisp and they absorb less oil.

              1. re: treb

                Really? I would have thought the more oil you use, the soggier the eggplant would get. Do you have any idea why using more oil might be better?

                1. re: clairebbbear

                  No, the hotter the fry oil, the less soggy; it's not the amount. If you're baking it, with no coating, then that's a different story. Plus it's easier to get a good amount of oil up to temp without smoking. The breading should crisp up instantly and shield the rest from any more oil being absorbed.

                  I deep fry mine in a deep fryer, although I've done pan fried too, and either way they come out as crispy as potato chips. I too cut them as thin as possible, 1/2 inch would be way too thick.

                  As a matter of fact, we eat quite a few of them just as it, after sprinkling with salt, before they ever see the parmigiana pan. The plain slices also make a very nice sandwich, even when cold.

                  And I've occasionally done the pre-salting thing but haven't noticed any difference at all, regarding that. I like to get it crispy on the outside but moist on the inside, so not really looking to release any juiciness.

                  1. re: coll

                    Thanks, that was most helpful.

                    I think it might have been that the oil cooled down after the first batch I fried. I think I'll invest in a thermometer for next time.

                    1. re: clairebbbear

                      That's a good idea. But over time, if you fry enough, you will be able to tell by looking, or a pinch of flour dropped in will sizzle in just the right way that you know it's ready.

                      1. re: coll

                        I put the end of a wooden spoon in the oil, when it has bubbles around it, it's ready. (I don't keep the spoon in the oil, just use it to check the heat, take it out)

                        1. re: wyogal

                          I do that too -- my pal Oretta taught me -- but I never saw anyone else do it. It's a brilliant trick.

          2. I can't offer any specific critiques, but this recipe has been a stone winner for us for a few years now.
            http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
            The Spouse actually gets regular requests for it and the Offspring and I, who do not even like eggplant, look forward to it.
            It can be a bit of a pain making the sauce, but at the end of the summer we spend a day cooking and canning just the sauce and we generally get enough to last most the of the year.

            1. This is a recipe for two, but it is excellent....never fails.

              http://www.thebittenword.com/thebitte...

              1. I make eggplant parmesean several ways. You find eggplant gets bitter. One way is placing it in the sun. The other is draining it with a dish underneath. I referred to Marcella Hazan method in one of her Italian cookbooks. She mentioned to take tablesoups of liquid from the eggplant during the cooking to remove excess liquid. This prevents the soggyness and the finished product turned out well.

                2 Replies
                1. re: classylady

                  She mentioned to take tablesoups of liquid from the eggplant during the cooking to remove excess liquid

                  ~~~

                  am thinking this is autocorrect run amok, but what does this mean? i have never drained copious amounts of liquid from raw eggplant. if you mean post-fry-oil, then yes, proper draining is mandatory for any fried food.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    You bake the eggplant parm. for 30 minutes.After 20 minutes you drain the liquid from the eggplant with a tablespoon. Return the eggplant to cook an additional 15 minutes.

                2. Do the salting/pressing thing, then brush with oil and bake at 375 or higher. That mellows the flavor, which nuking does not.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    Just remembered eggplant on a waffle iron. Check this out: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/446954

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Oh - that's an interesting idea - thanks! Don't have a waffle iron, but have a sandwich press, and I think it might work the same way.

                  2. I've used this recipe for fried mushrooms, though I'm sure you could use it for eggplant as well. Note the picture has panko for the breading (which is what I used) even though the actual recipe says breadcrumbs.

                    http://allrecipes.com/recipe/old-fash...

                    Many breading recipes say to dredge it in flour first, then an egg wash, then the breading. This one instead uses a batter that contains baking powder, then breading (panko). The result is a thicker coating that gets extra crispy but seals in the moisture when frying.

                    Also, it helps to melt the cheese over the eggplant, then put the sauce on top - that way the sauce doesn't make the fried coating all soggy.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Atomic76

                      Thanks - I think I will try that!

                    2. A few tips, straight from Lago di Como, IT:

                      1. 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick for each slice.
                      2. Lightly brush each slice with olive oil. Very lightly, as the eggplant slice can absorb a great amount of oil.
                      3. Salt, then pan fry (hot) quickly. (50% cooked). Overcooking will also lead to the slices becoming heavy and then falling apart.
                      4. Remove to paper-dry and then bake, or follow the rest of your recipe. This is now the remaining 50% of the eggplant cooking time.

                      A common mistake is adding too much oil, as the slice will become heavy, then soggy.

                      Using the method above, the slices hold their shape.

                       
                       
                      2 Replies
                      1. re: SWISSAIRE

                        Thanks!

                        1. re: SWISSAIRE

                          Yes, this method is pretty much what I use too.

                        2. It sounds to me that the eggplant is way too thick. Also, I have never encountered breaded eggplant in parmigiana. Just fried and drained on paper towels before layering.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: mbfant

                            my family always breaded it.

                            i loved it, but making it was such a production we didn't have it often.

                            1. re: mbfant

                              That's interesting. I was wondering that maybe I had the slices too thin, and it was cooking too fast. One of the other recipes posted upthread suggested 1/3 inch slices.

                              And yes, I am aware the breaded eggplant is not the traditional Italian way and is more an American thing. I'm trying to re-create an eggplant parma I had which basically a stack of breaded eggplant (like eggplant schnitzel) with marinara sauce on top. But that one wasn't baked, so I may be missing the point here.

                              1. re: clairebbbear

                                I'm not sure I understand- I gave you a foolproof recipe above. You want something not tough or greasy and not soggy. This method takes care of that.

                                1. re: fara

                                  I specifically wanted something breaded, and the recipe you posted is not. However, if the next batch doesn't work I will give up on the breaded idea and try the recipe you posted.

                                  Does your father also bake his recipe, and for how long?

                                2. re: clairebbbear

                                  The best method I found was salting/draining, then put slices in a pan, brush on olive oil and BROIL. Turn over and broil the other side. This method does not use much oil.

                                  1. re: clairebbbear

                                    Breaded eggplant is traditional in my husband's family, and he's as Italian as they come. This is how we do: peel the eggplant and slice (that's Sicilian style I believe; Neopolitan they don't peel, or so I've been told...or maybe the other way around), then first flour dredge, followed by eggs mixed with lots of parmesan, then flavored bread crumbs mixed with more flour. A lot of work but worth it.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      We are Sicilian and peeled is the only way to go!

                                    2. re: clairebbbear

                                      So, you like the one you had, but are using recipes that are different? I don't understand.
                                      The suggestion up thread to keep the eggplant slices and sauce separate, then served together at the last minute sounds like what you liked in the first place.
                                      I also like the suggestion of freezing the prepared eggplant. Then putting the sauce on later.

                                    3. re: mbfant

                                      I grandmother and great grandmother used flour to bread and my mothers armed from them. But my aunt uses seasoned bread cumbs.

                                      I think the baking is where the sogginess is coming from.

                                      1. re: melpy

                                        Baking is always soggier with eggplant, it wants to absorb all the oil that you can throw at it! Like a sponge.

                                    4. My Italian dad makes it like this, simple, relatively fast and not as greasy.
                                      Boil a large pot of salted water. Slice peeled eggplant very thinly lengthwise. When water boils, add eggplant and cover. Turn off heat and let sit 1/2 hr. drain, then dip in an egg and milk mixture, then in flour. Fry in olive oil. They will cook quickly and taste ideal right out of the pan. If you can hold off, later with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: fara

                                        Interesting. I'm going to try this method and see how it works.

                                      2. Regarding salting the eggplant, my method is to line a sheet pan with a double layer of paper towels and salt the paper towels. Then I place the eggplant in a single layer on the towels and salt the tops, then put another layer of paper towels on that. Let stand, then press lightly on the top paper towels, then remove your salted and dried eggplant.

                                        1. I used to make killer Eggplant Parm from scratch but had tons of eggplant issues but then I found at Trader Joe's, breaded eggplant in the frozen section for around $3.

                                          Wow..in 5 minutes, I have ready my sauce, mozz, riccota, garlic and the eggplant and stack those bad boys up and I gotta say that it rivals my homemade eggplant Parm.

                                          Something to think about when your eggplant doesn't do what you want it to do.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                            Hosted a dinner party last night and made my beloved Eggplant Parm with mushrooms, goat cheese with garlic/shallots and it was a hit and a lovely combo than the traditional.

                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                              @BeachChick,
                                              I too use the TJ's breaded eggplant slices now for eggpl. parm.....very delish! quite a find when I discovered them and now always have a box in the freezer.

                                              1. re: grangie angie

                                                Awesome..

                                          2. I also say cut it thinner. This well help a lot in getting moisture out when you salt/weight the slices and it will create much more surface area to crisp when frying.

                                            The reason more oil works better is the temp drops less when you add the slices, so the eggplant fries better/faster.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: hambone

                                              I agree about cutting the eggplant thinner. When I make eggplant parmigiana, I grill the slices, not fry. That gives it a lovely, smoky flavour, plus the eggplant absorbs a lot less oil. I dip each slice in olive oil before putting on the got grill. Then I layer with mozzarella and the tomato sauce and put parmesan on the top.

                                              If you're going to breadcrumb your eggplant, then I'd suggest frying it in more oil (an inch deep at least) and make sure you heat the oil up well. Because of the heat of the oil, the eggplant will absorb less of it.

                                              1. re: Snookums75

                                                The most incredible eggplant parm I ever ate was made by
                                                the mother of an Italian friend. She cut the eggplant
                                                very thin - I'd say no more than 1/8" and breaded it lightly.
                                                Then she stacked lots of layers each with an equally thin
                                                "smear" of cheese. Never got the recipe so I can't be
                                                much more specific but it was outrageous!

                                                1. re: ferventfoodie

                                                  You need at least 4 layers!

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    I'd say she used at least eight to ten!

                                                    1. re: ferventfoodie

                                                      The more the merrier!

                                                2. re: Snookums75

                                                  I'm trying the grilling method tonight. I am also adding a layer
                                                  of polenta.

                                              2. I have stopped buying eggplants out of season (except frozen from my garden). I got tired of the effort nd cost of ingredients only to end up with very inferior eggplant. The eggplant from my garden or the farmers mkt slices crisply and cooks to a firm consistency.

                                                1. I never had eggplant until I was in my early 20's ( around 1980) and found a recipe card at the grocery store. Being a newly wed and new mother I was looking for recipes my mother never made to impress my husband. He loved my mothers cooking. This recipe called for a batter of flour, egg and water. I'd add garlic powder, oregano to the batter and sometimes seltzer or beer instead of water. Slice the eggplant in about 1/3 inch rounds (with skin) dip in batter and fry in shallow oil in fry pan until golden and a fork could pierce it easlily. Drain on paper towels, and assemble with sauce on bottom of baking dish, then fried eggplant, alittle more sauce, mozzarela, eggplant etc. cheese on top and cook until cheese is bubbly and browned. A few years ago, when I was looking to eat more veggies, I added sauteed mushroom and zucchini and slice fresh tomato inbetween the fried slices. Eventually, I stopped frying the eggplant and roasted it instead. I don't remember it ever being too oily or bitter.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: clamchowderrlambchop

                                                    More or less this^
                                                    My family has always made eggplant parm from "paper thin" slices of eggplant dipped in a fine crepe batter and fried to golden brown then drained. Those that escape being eaten at that stage (they are amazingly delicious) are layered into a casserole with tomato sauce and mozzarella is finished with an egg whipped tomato sauce (for binding) and topped with grated parmigiano. The resulting casserole is dense, luscious and "meaty" . This is one of the things I just will not order out as it never meets expectations. Thick breaded slices of eggplant sogged in sauce only lead to disappointment.

                                                  2. I'm surprised no one mentioned the Food lab's article on serious eats - http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/02/th...

                                                    basically, he microwaves the raw eggplant to expel as much moisture as possible, and then fries...I've tried it, and its actually a great method

                                                    1. Here's a recipe I fine-tuned for months:

                                                      Eggplant Parmesan

                                                      Even people who claim to hate eggplant just devour this dish. Part of what makes it work so well is that white eggplant is much less bitter—and less liable to become slimy—than purple.

                                                      3 pounds white eggplant, about 3 medium-sized
                                                      Canola oil for frying
                                                      Flour spread on a plate
                                                      1 tablespoon olive oil
                                                      1 14-ounce can organic diced tomatoes, with their juices
                                                      1 pound fresh mozzarella
                                                      8-10 fresh basil leaves
                                                      Butter for smearing and dotting the dish
                                                      1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

                                                      Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Peel the eggplants and slice them crosswise into 3/8” pieces. Stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle both sides with kosher salt. Stand another layer of slices against the first and sprinkle with salt. Repeat until you have salted all the eggplant you’re working with. Let the eggplant steep for 30 minutes, then pat each slice thoroughly dry with paper towels.

                                                      Select a large fairly deep frying pan, set it over high heat, and pour in 1” of oil. Dredge the eggplant slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. Do only a few slices at a time just when you’re ready to fry them. If the oil sizzles when you dip a corner of eggplant in, it’s ready. Slip as many of the slices into the pan as will fit loosely without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown on one side, about 4 minutes, then turn them. Do not turn them more than once. After about 8 minutes, when they are golden brown all over, transfer the eggplant slices to a cooling rack. Repeat until all the eggplant is browned.

                                                      Meanwhile, put the olive oil and tomatoes into a saucepan over medium-high heat, add salt to taste, stir, and cook the tomato mixture until it’s reduced by half.

                                                      Cut the mozzarella into the thin slices, and tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces.
                                                      Butter the bottom and sides of a large 2 1/2 quart gratin. Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish in a single layer, spread some of the cooked tomato over them, cover with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan, distribute a few torn pieces of basil over it, and top with another layer of fried eggplant, making little stacks. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of eggplant, covered with any remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, place the dish on the top oven rack, and roast until bubbly, about 40 minutes.

                                                      Yield: 3 ample servings

                                                      1. One of my favorite chefs says to skip the crumbs. Do an egg wash of oregano and egg, coat the 1/2 inch slices well. Put just a little bit, not a covering, of sauce in the bottom of the pan. Put in the slices of eggplant, put a little (not a heaping helping) of sauce on top of each, then a leaf of basil, some pecorino romano (or parmesan if you can't find it) and a slice of mozzarella on top of the ones on the bottom layer. On the top layer, put sauce, basil leaf, mozzarella, and then the pecorino (or parmesan) so that it browns and looks pretty. Bake @ 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Success!

                                                        Read further down. That same chef also salts the slices and lets the juice within them (it will be kind of brown) rise up and out before putting them in the egg wash. Once they've got that film on them you just wash them off and pat them dry so you don't have all the extra salt.

                                                        Final edit, I promise! Here's the link to the video where he makes it and if you open up where it says 'Show More' beneath the video there are links to text and other versions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwRm4...

                                                        1. I'm guessing the biggest culprit is the temperature of your oil. Commercial fryers are much more forgiving because they will hold their heat, but a shallow fry or a tiny counter top fryer won't. The oil needs to be about 350 degrees before you drop them in, and don't cook too many at once. You can keep the cooked ones warm on a tray in the oven with some paper towel.

                                                          Also, try melting the cheese over the eggplants first before adding the sauce, so it acts as a bit of a barrier.

                                                          1. this happened quite by accident a few years ago, but it now my go-to method. I was making eggplant parm for a work party where all we would have were warming ovens at the event, no way to cook anything. Becuase of this and a timing error on my part, I sliced, salted, rinsed, dried and breaded the eggplant in the evening before. I left the breaded cutlets covered in the firdge overnight, then fried them off in the am before work. layered in a foil pan with cheese between slices and poured sauce over. Covered with foil, warmed in warming oven at work. For some reason it was the most tender flavorful eggplant, everyone at work was raving. I am not sure why it worked so well, maybe the firdge dried it out even more so it didn;t absorb a lot of oil? At any rate, I do this method all the time now.