"This dish was created by one of my old sous-chefs, Victor Liong, after he ate at Dainty Sichuan in Melbourne," says Hong. "Fish-fragrant sauce doesn't actually have any fish in it, but its sweet, sour and spicy elements are traditionally used to cook Sichuan fish dishes and give this dish its name."
- 6 Japanese eggplant (long thin eggplant), peeled, cut into batons about 5cm x 1.5cm
- ½ bunch coriander, finely chopped
- 2 long red chillies, thinly sliced into rounds
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 450 gm caster sugar
- 100 gm liquid glucose
- 100 ml light soy sauce
- 100 ml Chinese red vinegar (see note)
- 70 gm soy paste (see note)
- 2½ tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar (see note)
- 2 tbsp chilli bean paste (see note)
- 2 tbsp Lao Gan Ma chilli oil (with peanuts; see note)
- 1 tbsp very finely chopped ginger
- 2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
- 3 birdseye chillies, very finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 50 gm sesame seeds
- 15 gm xanthan gum (see note)
- 60 gm rice flour
- 60 gm tapioca flour
- 1For the fish-fragrant sauce, put the sugar and liquid glucose in a large saucepan and add 250ml water. Whisk over medium heat to dissolve the sugar, then increase the heat to high, stirring until the mixture starts to boil. Keep boiling until the temperature reaches 120C. Add the remaining ingredients and 1 tsp salt, stir to combine and leave it to simmer for 40-45 minutes until it has a glazy caramel-like consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Makes about 500ml. This sauce can be stored in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 months.
- 2For the batter, put the xanthan gum and 550ml water into a bowl. Whizz with a hand-held blender until it has a thick, viscous consistency. Blend in the rice and tapioca flours, followed by 1 tsp fine salt. The result should be a fairly goopy but smooth batter.
- 3Fill a large wok or deep-fryer to a third full with oil and heat to 180C or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in 15 seconds. Dip the eggplant pieces into the batter, then gently lower them into the oil one by one. Fry in batches for about 5 minutes a batch. Don’t fiddle with the eggplant in the first 2-3 minutes to allow the batter to firm. After about 3 minutes the exterior will harden and you can use tongs to separate any pieces that have stuck together. Continue cooking until the 5-minute mark. Drain on paper towels.
- 4Put eggplant in a bowl and pour about 100ml of fish-fragrant sauce on top. Using a large spoon, stir to ensure each piece of eggplant is evenly coated. Add coriander sprigs and chillies, and mix through. Serve topped with the spring onion, fried shallots, baby coriander leaves and sesame seeds.
Note Chinese red vinegar, soy paste, a thickened Taiwanese soy sauce, and Chinkiang vinegar, a black rice vinegar, and Lao Gan Ma chilli oil, a blend of oil, chilli flakes and peanuts, are available from Asian grocers. Xanthan gum is a stabilising agent available from health-food shops. This recipe is from Mr Hong ($49.99, hbk), published by Murdoch Books and has been reproduced with GT style changes.
Drink Suggestion: A savoury rosé without too much fruit – Maestro Tejero “Amanda”, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Drink suggestion by Franck Moreau
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