Fried Eggplant Sandwich (炸茄盒 Zha Qie He)
November 28, 2020
My grandparents used to make these Fried Eggplant Sandwiches during the winter months when I was growing up. They are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The eggplants act as the sandwich bread, enveloping the port belly filling insides. The batter hardens after frying, shielding the sweet and tender eggplant so the pork belly filling can stay perfectly juicy and fragrant. I could eat so many of these that I would not have any room for anything else.
If you’ve never had fried eggplant sandwiches (茄盒), you are missing out. Fried eggplant sandwich is a popular comfort food from China’s Northeastern cuisine (东北菜). Like I mentioned in a previous post, Sauteed Green Bean With Potatoes, Northeastern cuisine is known for its large portions and robust flavor. Fried eggplant sandwiches are not fancy gourmet food by any means, but they are addictive and super satisfying.
When I fry these, instead of completely immersing the eggplant sandwiches in oil, which requires too much oil, I only use enough oil to submerge the eggplant sandwiches halfway and fry them one side at a time. Once both sides of the sandwiches are golden brown, I place them on a paper towel lined plate to cool. I then fry again. The trick is double frying. The second time is much quicker, taking only about 1 minute. Since the eggplant sandwiches taste much better when they are hot and fresh out of the frying pan, I usually do the first frying before preparing other dishes of a meal. Then after I’m done with the rest of the dishes, I do the second frying right before serving.
The standard filling for an eggplant sandwich uses pork belly and it’s what I have for this recipe. But you can certainly change that or add other ingredients. I’ve added shrimp and diced onions in the past and both turned out well. Serve the sandwiches on a cold winter night as a main dish or as snacks and they will surely hit the spot. For adults, don’t forget to pair these with a bottle of beer.
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 people
- 2-3 Chinese or Japanese eggplants1
- ~0.7 lb (~300g) ground pork belly2
- 1 1-inch-long piece of ginger
- 1 green onion
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or rice wine
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 egg
- ~1 cup of vegetable oil for frying
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
Tool: Stainless Steel Skillet
- Peel and mince the ginger. Slice the green onion into small pieces. In a large bowl, add the rest of the sandwich ingredients except the eggplant. This includes the 1 lb (~450g) of ground pork belly, minced ginger, sliced green onions, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon of ground white pepper, and 1 egg. Mix everything with a circular motion either clock-wise or counter clock-wise until everything is evenly combined. Let the pork belly fillings marinate while preparing for the other ingredients.
- Wash the eggplant. Cut as shown in the pictures. If you’re using a thinner eggplant, cut it at a angle so the cross section has an oval shape and more area to work with. If the eggplant is thick, cut it straight down so the cross section has a round shape. When cutting, make 2 different cuts. Leave 1/4 inch (~0.6cm) between each cut. DO NOT cut all the way on the first cut (so the fillings can go inside while the eggplants are still connected).
- In a separate bowl, combine everything under the the “batter” section in the ingredients. This includes 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of corn starch, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Mix thoroughly. The batter should be smooth and thick enough that when lifting, a peak forms then subsides quickly.
- Scoop enough pork belly filling into the eggplant, one at a time until all the eggplants are filled. See pictures. There should not be any extra filling sticking out from the oval shaped eggplant bread.
- Heat enough oil (~ 1 cup) in a stainless steel skillet under medium-high heat. When the temperature reaches 320 °F (160°C), dip the eggplant sandwiches one at a time into the batter. Make sure to coat each sandwich entirely with a thin layer. Then transfer immediately into the skillet to fry.
- Repeat with the rest of the eggplant sandwiches. Leave some space in between each sandwich in the skillet and fill the skillet is filled with one layer of sandwiches. Flip each sandwich over when its bottom side becomes golden brown (about 3 minutes). When both sides are golden brown, take the sandwich out and leave on a kitchen towel lined plate to cool. Depending on the number of eggplant sandwiches, it may take more than 2 batches to fry.
- Use a strainer to remove any small bits of frying batter. Once all the sandwiches are cooled, use the same skillet to fry the sandwiches again (double fry) under medium-high heat. Make sure the temperature reaches 320 °F (160°C) before adding the sandwiches. Flip each sandwich after about 20 seconds. Watch carefully to prevent burning. It takes less than 1 minute in total to fry each sandwich for the second time.
- Take the eggplant sandwiches out of the pan and cool them on a kitchen towel lined plate for 1-2 minutes before serving. Enjoy while they are hot!
- You can find these Asian eggplants in most Asian and international super market. They have a sweeter and more delicate flavor than western eggplants. Cut them diagonally to enlarge the surface area. The smaller the eggplant, the less time it takes to fry.
- Ground pork belly is preferred as the fat adds more juice and flavor. But you can also use ground pork instead.