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23 Feb 2021

Recipe: fish-fragrant aubergines, a Sichuanese vegan classic

Recipe: fish-fragrant aubergines, a Sichuanese vegan classic
Fuchsia Dunlop, author of five books, including The Food of Sichuan, and one of the talented chefs who you can see at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, has shared a sweet, sour and spicy aubergine recipe from her book Every Grain of Rice.

The following recipe is a local classic and one of my all-time favourite dishes of any cuisine. More than any other dish, for me it sums up the luxuriant pleasures of Sichuanese food: the warm colours and tastes, the subtlety of complex flavours. Like other fish-fragrant dishes, it’s made with the seasonings of traditional fish cookery: pickled chillies, garlic, ginger and spring onions. But unlike the more illustrious fish-fragrant pork slivers, it derives its colour not from pickled chillies alone, but from pickled chillies combined with broad beans in chilli bean paste. The sauce is sweet, sour and spicy, with a reddish hue and a visible scattering of chopped ginger, garlic and spring onion.

The dish is equally delicious hot or cold. I usually serve it with a meat or tofu dish and a stir-fried green vegetable, but it makes a fine lunch simply eaten with brown rice and a salad. The aubergines, deep-fried to a buttery tenderness, are delectable. I’ve eaten this dish in restaurants all over Sichuan and recorded numerous different versions of the recipe. The following one will, I hope, make you sigh with delight.

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
Takes 45-50 mins


  • 600g aubergines, cut into batons around 2cm thick and 7cm long
  • cooking oil, for deep-frying
  • 1½ tbsp Sichuan chilli bean paste
  • 4½ cloves of garlic, finely chopped 
  • 2cm piece ginger, finely chopped 
  • 150ml hot stock or water
  • 4 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • ¾ tsp potato starch, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar
  • 3 spring onions, white bulb discarded and leafy greens thinly sliced 


  1. Sprinkle the aubergine batons with salt, toss well and set aside for at least 30 mins.
  2. Rinse the aubergines, drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper. Pour the cooking oil into a wok and heat to around 200C (to test if it’s hot enough, drop in a piece of aubergine and it should sizzle vigorously). Add the aubergines, in two or three batches, and deep-fry for around 3 mins until tender and a little golden. Drain well on kitchen paper and set aside.
  3. Carefully pour away all but 3 tbsp of the oil, then return the wok to a medium heat. Add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant, taking care not to burn the paste (move the wok away from the hob if you think it might be overheating). Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant.
  4. Tip in the stock (or water), sugar and soy sauce. Bring to the boil, then add the aubergines, gently nudging them into the sauce so the pieces don’t break apart. Simmer for a minute or so to allow the aubergines to absorb the flavours.
  5. Give the potato starch mixture a stir, then add it to the wok gradually, in about three stages, adding just enough to thicken the sauce to a luxurious gravy (you probably won’t need to use all of it). Tip in the vinegar and all but 1 tbsp of the spring onion greens, then stir for a few seconds to fuse the flavours.
  6. Turn out on to a serving dish, scatter over the remaining spring onion greens and serve.

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