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Eggplant parmesan fail - what am I doing wrong?

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.