Hangzhou aubergines – rou mo qie zi by Fuchsia Dunlop

Hangzhou aubergines – rou mo qie zi by Fuchsia Dunlop

When I told the Hangzhou chef Hu Zhongying that I was interested in local home cooking, he took me into the kitchens of his restaurant, the Hangzhou Jiujia, and asked one of the chefs there to demonstrate this everyday dish, in which tender aubergines are flavoured with a rich, fermented sauce and a scattering of minced pork. It’s wonderful, even for a loyal fish-fragrant aubergine devotee like me. Vegetarians can use the same method, omitting the pork and using water or vegetarian stock. In China, they never salt their aubergines before frying, but I find that the Mediterranean method gives a better, less oily result.

Serves 4, as part of a Chinese meal
aubergines 400g
cooking oil for deep-frying (350ml will do)
minced pork 50-75g, ideally with a little fat
ginger 2 tsp, finely chopped
sweet fermented sauce 1 tbsp (available online)
stock 2 tbsp
Shaoxing wine 1 tbsp
light soy sauce 1 tsp
dark soy sauce ½ tsp
caster sugar ½ tsp
potato flour ¼ tsp, mixed with 2 tsp cold water
spring onion greens 2 tbsp, finely chopped

Cut the aubergines lengthways into 2cm slices, then cut the slices into 2cm strips. Cut these into 5-6cm lengths. Sprinkle with a little salt, mix well and leave in a colander to drain for 30 minutes or so.

Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180-200C. Shake the aubergines dry and deep-fry, in a couple of batches, until slightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen paper.

Drain off the deep-frying oil, rinse the wok if necessary, then return it to a high flame. When the wok is hot again, add 1-2 tablespoons of oil, swirl it around, then add the pork and stir-fry over a medium flame until the meat has lost its pinkness and the oil has cleared again. Add the ginger and stir to release its fragrance. Add the fermented sauce and stir until it smells delicious, too. Add the stock, Shaoxing wine, soy sauces and sugar, return the aubergines, and mix well.

Toss the aubergines in the sauce, then give the potato flour mixture a stir and pour it into the centre of the wok, moving briskly to stir it in. Add the spring onions, stir a few times, then serve.