Panfried Eggplant (or Any Other Vegetable)

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: 1 hour

This is the model for frying vegetables so they’re crunchy and tender, like the zucchini sticks you get in chain restaurants, only better. Eggplant produces a very substantial “cutlet” when handled this way, but so do many of the other vegetables in the chart. And the variety of toppings and dipping sauces you can use is huge, though I always seem to come back to lemon juice, maybe with a little hot sauce.

Like deep-fried food, panfried vegetables are at their crispest immediately after cooking. When done, drain the pieces briefly on paper towels and serve. If you must hold fried vegetables for a bit—no longer than 10 or 15 minutes please—drain them briefly, then immediately transfer them to a warm oven as directed. A wire rack set over a rimmed baking pan is ideal, but any ovenproof platter will work.

4 or 5 small or 2 large eggplant, about 2 pounds total, trimmed

Salt

1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging

3 cups plain bread crumbs for dredging

3 eggs, beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons butter plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, or all oil or all clarified butter, plus more as needed

Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Lemon wedges

Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices; salt them (see To Salt or Not to Salt?) if large and time allows. Preheat the oven to 200В°F. Set out the flour, bread crumbs, and beaten eggs on plates or shallow bowls next to each other on your counter and have a stack of parchment or wax paper ready. Season the eggs liberally with salt and pepper.

Rinse and dry the eggplant. Dredge the slices, one at a time, in the flour, then dip in the egg, then dredge in the bread crumbs. Stack the breaded cutlets between layers of wax paper and then transfer the stack to chill in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Put the oil and/or butter in a deep pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high; when the oil is ready—about 350°F—a pinch of flour will sizzle in it. Put in a few of the eggplant slices; cook in batches as necessary, being sure not to crowd the pan, adding additional oil to the pan as necessary.

Turn the eggplant slices as soon as they’re browned, then cook the other side. The total cooking time should be 5 minutes or less. As each piece is done, transfer it first to paper towels to drain briefly, then to an ovenproof platter, and transfer the platter to the oven.

Serve as soon as all the pieces are cooked, garnished with the parsley, with the lemon wedges on the side.

Variations

Celery Root “Schnitzel.” The history of vegetarianism in central Europe led to the mainstreaming of this dish, which is terrific: Substitute celery root (or potato, beet, or rutabaga) for the eggplant, cutting it into 1/4-inch-thick slices and cooking for about 10 minutes total. Proceed with the recipe.

Sesame-Fried Eggplant. An Asian-style variation that’s great with any soy-based dipping sauce: Use 2 cups of bread crumbs and 1 cup of sesame seeds for the final dredging. Replace some of the oil or butter (2 to 3 tablespoons) with sesame oil.

Coconut-Fried Plantains. A totally tropical appetizer, side dish, or dessert: Substitute 4 or 5 yellow to yellow-black plantains for the eggplant; peel and cut straight or diagonal into about 1/4-inch-thick slices. Use 11/2 cups bread crumbs and 11/2 cups shredded coconut for the final dredging.

Grain-Fried Butternut Squash. Replacing part or all of the bread crumbs with ground grains adds a nutty flavor: Substitute about 2 pounds peeled and sliced butternut squash for the eggplant. Use 3 cups ground oats or barley instead of the bread crumbs for the final dredging.

Fried Onion Rings, Streamlined. A simple coating of flour makes for a slightly less crunchy and really simple onion ring; these make a fantastic garnish too: Substitute 2 thinly sliced onions for the eggplant. Omit the bread crumbs and eggs; dredge the onion rings in just flour and fry until golden brown.

3 Ways to Vary Any Fried Vegetable

  1. Change the breading: For the bread crumbs, try using panko crumbs, shredded coconut, finely chopped nuts or seeds, or pulverized raw whole grains, like rice, rolled oats or barley, or kasha (pulse in the food processor to grind any of these); or grated Parmesan (mixed with bread crumbs).
  2. Streamline the process: Omit the eggs and bread crumbs and simply dredge the vegetables in flour before frying. Note that this works best for vegetables with a decent amount of moisture for the flour to stick to; hard vegetables like carrots or winter squash won’t have the same flour coating as onions or zucchini.
  3. Make Vegan Fried Vegetables: Instead of the egg, use soy, grain, or nut milk. For frying, always use all oil.