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I'm planning on cooking an Asian style eggplant with garlic sauce soon. However, I am concerned (perhaps even paranoid) about getting the texture right. My goal is for the eggplant to be very soft ("melt in your mouth"). In the past, I've had eggplant turn tough and chewy when cooked. How can I make sure it turns out how I want?

I don't typically salt my eggplant before cooking, because I don't find the taste to be unpleasantly bitter. Would that help?

  • How are you planning to cook it (steaming, boiling, oven)? I have little experience with Asian eggplants (are they the round ones?), but for regular eggplants the "shove it in the oven at 200-220C and wait 40 minutes" way does the trick. There may (will) be some charring on the flesh, so if that's unacceptable, it's a no go. – Willem van Rumpt Oct 4 '16 at 15:36
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    If roasting or frying, the normal mistake is not using enough oil and/or not cooking it enough. It really soaks up oil, so if you're shy about it you make it either spongy and undercooked or tough and burnt - sometimes both. – Niall Oct 4 '16 at 19:00
  • I was thinking of frying them in a pan, but cooking in the oven would also be acceptable. – Era Oct 5 '16 at 14:07
  • @Era both work well, personally I find the oven easier and more consistent. Plenty of oil and a a high temperature (220c fan), will get a good texture. A generous amount of salt for taste - it's just one of those vegetables that needs it to bring out the flavour. – Niall Oct 6 '16 at 3:26
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You need a minimum cooking time and water for it to be cooked thoroughly. You mentioned that once they turned out tough and chewy: then they were not cooked fully through.

Vegetables are not like meat, which turn rubbery when overcooked. They turn soft rather.

Watch out for the opposite as well: Eggplants when cooked for a long time may turn mushy.
Cut them and keep them immersed in cool water prior to cooking to avoid discoloring. Then start by cooking with minimal water. Cover and cook. Keep stirring in between. Cut with a spoon to check if it is cooked. The spoon should softly pass through the piece.
You can also taste it: if you achieve the melt in your mouth (not mushy though) stop your cooking process.

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    This isn't entirely true. There are a lot of vegetables which when cooked for a bit at lower temperatures (e.g. 20-30 minutes at 130-140F/55-60C), the cell wall firms up and they'll stay firm through long cooking, while if they were cooked quickly they'd get quite soft. I don't remember if eggplant is one of those (the short list in On Food and Cooking doesn't include it), but if it is, and the OP is accidentally doing this, then longer cooking won't help. See cooking.stackexchange.com/a/20773/1672 – Cascabel Oct 5 '16 at 21:51
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Make sure your initial cooking is reasonably fast and hot, and from there just cook it until it's soft enough for your tastes.

Many vegetables firm up when cooked at lower temperatures, especially in the presence of salt. From On Food and Cooking:

It turns out that in certain vegetables and fruits - including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, cherries, apples - the usual softening during cooking can be reduced by a low-temperature precooking step. If preheated to 130-140F/55-60C for 20-30 minutes, these foods develop a persistent firmness that survives prolonged final cooking. ... Firm-able vegetables and fruits have an enzyme in their cell walls that becomes activated at around 50C (and inactivated above 70C), and alters the cell-wall pectins so that they're more easily cross-linked by calcium ions. At the same time, calcium ions are being released as the cell contents leak through damaged membranes, and they cross-link the pectin so that it will be much more resistant to removal or breakdown at boiling temperatures.

Eggplant isn't on that list, but I believe the enzyme in question is pectinesterase and is present to some degree in many vegetables, and I've had eggplant that stayed fairly tough through longer cooking, so I suspect it's a possibility here.

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I cook with eggplant very often. Nearly always I microwave them first, either whole or in pieces, for up to ten minutes at about 750w. This leaves them soft and less bitter, and ready for browning in the frying pan or oven.

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I find for eggplant parm, slicing thin is the key. If too thick can be tough and rubbery...awful and inedible.

  • But I'm guessing that the OP's recipe calls for cubed eggplant, not thin slices. – Catija Oct 15 '17 at 5:39
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I cooked two eggplants earlier today, both very large, in halfs. The two larger slices came out rubbery and inedible, and the other two, (smaller) were cooked through and through and came out soft like whip cream, and delicious. So thickness made all the difference here because all the other factors - temperature, salt, humidity etc., were the same. The larger half of each eggplant came out bad and the other half bad. From now on I'll be cooking medium or small size eggplants see what happens...

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