QUESTION: Do I need to soak eggplant before cooking? Will soaking eggplant improve the flavor? -Kev F.
ANSWER: Soaking eggplant before cooking is not a requirement, but it can be helpful in certain situations. The decision to soak your eggplant depends on factors such as the eggplant’s age, bitterness, and the dish you are preparing. Here are some considerations and methods for soaking eggplants:
Soaking to reduce bitterness: If you suspect that your eggplant might be bitter due to age or other factors, you can soak it to help reduce the bitterness. We cover three of those methods below, such as soaking in milk.
Soaking to minimize oil absorption: Eggplants can absorb a significant amount of oil during cooking, especially when frying or sautéing. Soaking the eggplant in saltwater for 20-30 minutes before cooking can help to reduce oil absorption by breaking down the fruit’s cell walls. To do this, dissolve 1-2 tablespoons of salt in a large bowl of water, add the eggplant pieces, and let them soak. Afterward, drain and pat the eggplant dry before cooking.
Sweating eggplant to remove excess moisture: In some cases, removing excess moisture from the eggplant can improve the final dish’s texture. If you’re making a dish like eggplant Parmesan or moussaka, you might want to draw out moisture by salting the eggplant slices and letting them rest for about 30 minutes. This process, often called “sweating,” helps the eggplant release water, which you can then pat dry before cooking.
Ultimately, whether or not to soak your eggplant before cooking depends on your personal preference and the specific dish you are making. In many cases, you can cook eggplants without soaking, but using one of the methods mentioned above may enhance the final dish’s flavor and texture.
Most eggplants today are bred to be less bitter, but every once in a while, you get your hands on a bitter one from the grocery store. The reason is usually because the eggplant you picked is a little bit old. The longer an eggplant sits around after harvest, the greater the chance that it is going to be bitter. Bitterness in eggplants is primarily due to the presence of compounds called saponins, which can increase with age and stress.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how long eggplants have been sitting around when you are shopping for them at the grocery store. To increase your chances of selecting a fresh eggplant, look for ones with smooth, shiny skin and a bright green calyx (the cap and stem). The eggplant should feel firm and heavy for its size, and when gently pressed, the skin should bounce back.
Despite these selection tips, there’s still a chance you will wind up with a bitter eggplant. Luckily, there are a few methods that you can use to temper the bitterness of an eggplant.
1. Salting: Though not everyone agrees about how well it works, salting your eggplant can help to tame the bitter flavor. Some claim that it doesn’t really pull out the bitterness but just masks the flavor and makes us think that it is less bitter. Either way, sprinkling a decent amount of salt on your eggplant slices or cubes does seem to lessen the bitterness and also draws out a little of the moisture from the eggplant.
2. Soaking in milk: Another method that is not very well known, but is said to work wonders, is soaking eggplant slices or cubes in milk for about thirty minutes before cooking. Not only does the milk seem to take away the bitterness of the eggplant, but it also makes the vegetable extra creamy. Eggplant works like a sponge, soaking up the milk into the flesh of the fruit. The final result is creamy and juicy, and the bitterness is all gone.
3. Removing the seeds: The quickest way to make your eggplants less bitter is to scoop out and throw away the seeds of the fruit. If you don’t have time to salt or soak your eggplant pieces and just need to cook it quickly, removing the seeds is probably your best choice. Eggplant seeds tend to hold the majority of the bitterness. The older the eggplant, the more seeds it seems to have. Cut away the inner core of seeds, and it should significantly reduce the bitterness of the eggplant.