I recently got into a discussion online about salting eggplant. Do you salt yours? I usually do not because I like to: A) avoid excess salt, and B) avoid extra steps in the kitchen. But the other people participating in this discussion indicated that I was wrong, very wrong.
Curious about whether salting eggplant is really worth it, I decided to reach out to some of the best home cooks I know—fellow bloggers and food writers—to find out whether they salt eggplant, why or why not. Here’s what they said…
From those who DO salt:
Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains, Modern Meals: “I was raised by a Greek mom who wouldn’t dream of not salting her eggplant. But I wasn’t sure seeing so much conflicting advice. In fact, I’ve asked myself this question for years and after trying it out to learn for myself, I strongly recommend it. In my next cookbook Simply Ancient Grains (out in April 2015), I write: ‘Salting alters the texture of the fruit to make the flesh more supple and mouth-watering. I always find it worth my time. Compare it for yourself.'”
Camille Malmquist, blogger at Croque Camille and pastry chef at Frenchie To Go: “Yes, in theory, to draw off the bitter juices. It drains some of the water out, for faster browning once the eggplant hits the pan, and it’s usually not a big deal to cut up my eggplant first, salt it, and then leave it to drain while I do other mise en place.”
From those who DO NOT salt:
John Baxter, author of The Perfect Meal and Paris at the End of the World: “Having tried it both ways, I couldn’t detect much difference. Salting produced a few spoonsful of vinegary liquid, but the taste seemed the same. I had thought it might make the plant less inclined to absorb oil, a major advantage in cooking moussaka, but there was no appreciable change there either—unlike, say, cucumber, where salting and draining produces a quite different texture.”
Heather Robinson, blogger at Lost in Arles: “If your eggplant is young and fresh, it shouldn’t be bitter after it is cooked properly. And, as you are hopefully cooking it immediately after preparing it—as you should, because why let it oxidize?—there is no need to salt to ‘get rid of’ any extra liquid. And who needs extra salt no matter how carefully you get rid of it after?”
Rachel Roddy, blogger at Rachel Eats and author of Five Quarters (forthcoming June 2015): “As an Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson devotee, I salted for years. But I generally don’t anymore, especially with the rather nice, neat, almost sweet and creamy aubergines we get in Rome. If the aubergine look a little wilder, bolder and possibly bitter (like those from Sicily) I might well give them a salt. Very big aubergines, which I generally avoid, which might be watery, I might salt. I don’t even salt for parmigiana now, as I fry the slices in so much oil that water just evaporates away.”
Meg Bortin, blogger at The Everyday French Chef and author of Desperate to be a Housewife: “I never salt eggplant—I find it’s a bother and serves no purpose. On the other hand, I very rarely fry eggplant in oil, so over-absorption of oil is not a problem.”
Amelia Crook, blogger at Simple Provisions: “If the eggplant and fresh and lovely, particularly if I’ve picked it from my garden, then I don’t bother salting.”
Wini Moranville, author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: “No! I don’t salt eggplant. Supposedly, salting makes the eggplant less bitter (I’ve never found my locally grown eggplants to be bitter) and it also keeps the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. Frankly, when I’m making something with eggplant—especially ratatouille—the flavor of the olive oil is a big part of what makes it so good. Certainly, I don’t want it greasy, but if it absorbs a little olive oil, that’s part of the point!”
And from those in between:
Jill Colonna, author of Mad About Macarons: “I find with the time eggplant takes to prepare, Picard [French frozen food chain] do the most amazing aubergine slices that have been prepared previously on a grill. So I just defrost them and use them directly without any oil for making a moussaka (the rest is homemade!) or parmesan aubergine bake. I’m a real lazy gourmet ;-) That gives me more time to make dessert.”
Shannon Faris, blogger at The Misanthropic Hostess: “I don’t cook with
eggplant at ALL. The stuff scares me to death. Numerous times I’ve
parlayed with the aubergine enigma, starting with visions of silky, smokey
results to get fishy mush in return. I love eggplant… just not when I make it. Even simple grilled eggplant is fabulous—as long as it doesn’t come from our grill.”
After reading these thoughts, I decided to conduct my own Eggplant Taste Test. I bought two old eggplants from the Farmers Market and one young eggplant from my local grocery store. (It was supposed to be the other way around, but the aubergine at D’Agostino was fresher than at the Union Square Green Market—go figure.) I cubed the fruit and and roasted it in four batches:
1) Young and unsalted.
2) Old and unsalted.
3) Young and salted.
4) Old and salted.
And the result was…
They all tasted the same. The texture, too, was the same. Maybe Batch #3 (young and salted) was a bit more bitter than the rest—but that disproves every theory.
I used my roasted eggplant cubes to make this shortcut moussaka recipe from the New York Times. It was easy and delicious, but next time I’ll be able to whip it up even faster :)
Do you salt eggplant?