Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Transubstantiation....of Eggplant: Learning to Coal-Roast

I may get struck down by lighting with that post title, but I cannot think of another way to describe what I just ate.  Like, JUST.  The table isn't even cleared yet.  And I'm so in awe that I cannot help but ignore the dirty dishes on my dining room table, pull out my laptop, and write.  If you knew me, that's a BIG deal.

To reference, once again, the Grilling Issue of Bon Appétit's July 2013 issue: GOD BLESS MELISSA HAMILTON AND CHRISTOPHER HIRSHEIMER.  Their article, "Into the Fire," in which they describe fire-roasting eggplants--it's just changed my life.

This is one of those food experiences where I just want to go on and on and on, etc., etc., etc.  But I'm not going to.  I'm just going to tell you--no, order you--to go witness and partake of this unbelievable transformation of the world's most disgusting vegetable, and you will be a believer of being YOUR OWN PERSONAL CHEF, I promise.

Here is my experience, including recipes (gasp!), of my dinner, this evening, for one--that is me.  Here are the ingredients you will need for ONE PERSON, and then the directions.  And they are mildly adapted--just an FYI.

For the eggplant:
1 small purple eggplant
2 plum tomatoes
2 anchovy fillets, drained of oil and chopped finely
1 small garlic clove, chopped finely
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tblsp. olive oil
kosher salt to taste
fresh cracked paper to taste
1 tsp. torn cilantro leaves

For a very yummy side dish:
1/2 Tblsp. butter
1 tsp. olive oil
2 ears of sweet corn, kernels sliced from cobs
1 small cayenne pepper, seeded and minced
1 small zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
kosher salt to taste
fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 Tblsp. torn cilantro leaves

1) Make a hot, smoldering bed of coals (no real fire, here; too much heat).   DO NOT USE BRIQUETTES.  Use real, natural hardwood charcoal.  It's chunks of wood that have been carbonized, not pressed with glue and chemicals that you ingest and get cancer from.  I buy it in the grill section of Menards.  Anyway, you want the coals glowing red, covered in ash.  I did mine in the fire box of our smoker, but I don't see why you couldn't do this on a bed of coals in your firepit.  (Kind of romantic, in a foodie kind of way... Make yourself a nice cocktail while you are waiting for your coals to get perfectly hot.  I made a new beer/booze cocktail.  Will blog about it later...)

2) Take your average, everyday firm purple eggplant from the grocery store and throw it on the bed of coals.  (I didn't even rinse it.  Why bother? It's going on a frickin' bed of coals.)

3) Set your phone timer to 4 minutes.  Have a conversation with your dog while you are waiting.

When it goes off, flip the eggplant with a big ol' pair of tongs 1/4 turn.  Do this 2 more times.  Here's my progression of flips:

Straight on the coals:

After Flip 1:

After Flip 2:

After Flip 3:

4) After the second flip of the eggplant, put a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil directly on a patch of  coals not taken up by the eggplant and drop 2 plum/Roma tomatoes on the foil.  Flip them every once in awhile until the skins are split, and they are sizzingly hot and squishy.

Here's what the eggplant looks like when it is done:

5) When everything is roasted to death, put the veggies on a platter and let them all cool slightly so you don't burn yourself when you skin everything about 5 minutes later.  When you skin the eggplant, you are going to feel like you are peeling off too much, but the skin is really thick, and only the soft juicy center is what is left.  Here's a pic of the eggplant skinned:

6) After you skin the veggies, put the eggplant on a cooling rack over a plate (to drain more water--see pic above).  Put the tomatoes into a fine mesh sieve over a bowl.  Let the eggplant cool while you smash the tomatoes through the sieve.  There will be a lot of gunk left in the sieve, with a pool of fine delicious tomato juice in the bowl.

7) Add the garlic, anchovies, olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar to the tomato juice.  Stir/whisk well.

8) Pour half of the tomato sauce into a platter.  Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and lay the pieces side by side in the juice. (The top just kind-of came off while I was slicing it.  If it doesn't, pull it off.  You don't want to eat charred eggplant skin/stem.)  Sprinkle the flesh with a pinch of kosher salt.  Pour the rest of the sauce on top and let it all soak for a good 20 minutes.

9)  While the eggplant is transubstantiating, prep the veggies for the side dish.  When ready, heat the  olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until hot.

10) Add the zucchini, corn kernels, cayenne, garlic, salt, and pepper all at once to the pan, tossing with  the butter and oil mixture until coated.  Shake the skillet to create an even layer of veggies, then let it sit for 2 minutes.

11)  Toss, shake, and let the veggies sit for another 2 minutes.

12)  Add the torn cilantro, then toss, shake, and let the veggies sit for another 2 minutes, then plate the veggie mixture.  (I like my veggies with a bite--California style, as my mom says.  If you like yours squishy, let them go a minute or two longer.)

13)  Now back to the eggplant.  Add another fine sprinkling of kosher salt, garnish with the torn cilantro, then SERVE.

My thoughts on dinner? Sooo amazing.  Smoky, yet fresh from the tomato.  And the cilantro opens up the flavors in a way that I've never experienced before.  And the corn dish with its sweetness...  I am becoming a believer in vegetarianism.

Disregard that it looks like fish.  You have to taste!  GO.  And cook as you deserve!

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