SFC: Italian Sandwich, and no Not That One

               Another upheaval of my sister’s bi-weekly vegetable bag onto my counter left me with quite a few things to cook with through my various lunches and dinners… and also an eggplant. A whole, big eggplant, which stood stuck in my fridge for a week as I tried to find a good night to do something with it.

                And of course, with narrowing options in my peripheral, short window time, a few not-so-great experiences with the “fruit” in the past, and thus little skill in “expert handling” of the product, I as always ended up settling on a cliché. Since I didn’t feel like doing a stewed veggie dish (ratatouille), Eggplant Parmesan it was.

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                Buuuuuttt if I’m going to make somethin’, especially something I feel like posting about, it’s of course gonna have to be street-food-accessible. Thus, despite my love for the gooey, thick lasagna-impersonator that it is, I’ll have to take a different approach.

                Which shouldn’t be too hard, as my first “lesson” in eggplant parmesan had nothing to do with the baked, layered, and baked-again tradition. It simply revolved around a breaded, pan-fried “cutlet” of sorts, served with tomato sauce, the melted cheese, and all that goody. Great potential to shove inside a split hoagie with all the traditional accompaniments for a gooey, awesome, and CRUNCHY sandwich with the rich/heaviness used often as meat-substitute.

                So, before we get to all that handling of the eggplant, we first have to make our sauce. Very little actual rules here, can make whatever tomato sauce you want for the occasion; I stuck with something very basic with what I had on hand. Which was good, because I really needed to get rid of some tomatoes…

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                Start as always with some chopped onions, which are sweat (basically sautéed, but done at a medium temperature and NOT cooked until brown; they should look transparent-ish) in saucepan with BUTTER!!! (YAY!) After a while add in some garlic… and damn I added in a buttload, I think I almost put in as much garlic as onion…

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                If tomatoes aren’t already cut, do that quick; never want to cook garlic for too long (unless the temperature is nice and LOW… or you’re roasting it). I used fresh in this instance, due to the situation, but as I’ve mentioned in another post canned is just as good, and in certain times probably better; especially since they don’t have any skins that just come off and mix around in the final sauce if you aren’t straining.

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                And from here simply simmer/cook on a low to medium heat until everything’s soft. There’s no real NEED for any liquid; fresh tomatoes have a decent amount of water in their cells, and the canned already come with all that stuff around them (which is tasty, use it). Though adding some wine or other fluids certainly wouldn’t hurt.

                I myself wanted to at least get some herb flavors in there, so along with the salt and pepper seasoning I grabbed some red pepper flakes, dried oregano and thyme…. don’t look at me like that! I didn’t have any of the fresh stuff in my fridge! And if I’m not gonna use that stuff in a sauce what am I gonna use it in?

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                Though, I’ll admit I wanted a little more flavor and herbal base/complexity than just thoughs, so I tried an extra little something for fun. Thus I grabbed a can of sun-dried tomatoes from the fridge (hopefully you remember my post detailing my love and adoration for the flavor-filled oil-cured sundrieds), chopped a couple of them fine, and added them in with some of that rich, complex oil. I don’t know how much it really changed things, but I know I enjoyed the sauce.

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                Now done (you can debate whether or not you wanna serve it chunky like this, thin it out, blend it, crush with a potato masher, or whatever), we can get moving on the eggplant. First and foremost is setting up the SBP Station (Standard Breading Procedure… very simple, basic, and flexible style of breading for a variety of situations). We have 3 bowls, or pans, or whatever one wants to use: flour in the first, scrambled raw egg (or just yolk) in the second, and the outer coating in the third.

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                The coating is whatever the hell we want; based off of what I had myself, I used equal amounts of panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs, and some parmesan (I thought it’d be a fun thing to add). But one could easily just use pure panko, or bread crumbs, or could crush up some Doritos (I’ve tried it, it makes for a tasty crust), crackers, etc; I was actually going to use some leftover homemade croutons, but they disappeared…

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                After you’ve gathered all stations, SEASON YOUR COATINGS! Flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs all need salt and pepper; not much, but some. It’s just part of proper sbp procedures; also, if you want to get some herbs (fresh is best if able) and/or spices into the breading, that’s tasty too.

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                Grab your pan, which should be very wide and have some sort of deep-ish sides just to help prevent a little splatter, and add a solid but thin layer of oil. We’re not deep frying here, but it needs a little bit of thickness so that it feels like part of the eggplant is actually submered; ideally, when filled with all the slices the oil should rise up to about the middle of their thickness (or just a bit under). Heat this to desired temperature; could try using a thermometer to get to, say, 325 or 350F, or just sprinkle in a little bit of the crumb coating every now and then and see how it sizzles.

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                NOW we can start doing something with the actual eggplant; you don’t want to cut this up ahead of time if you don’t have to. This is of course, for those who know, due to the flesh’s habit of browning/oxidizing quickly once cut. I mean, really, it doesn’t matter too much since we’re coating and frying it completely, but I just like the idea of it being as fresh and whole as possible before cooking. I cut mine decently thick, cuz I wanted that firm, meaty sense to it, and of course cuz I didn’t want the breading to be like half of what I was eating. Also, many recipes will peel the skin off so as to not deal with its texture, and so the breading better sticks to the sides, but I like to leave them on; they add a little flavor, not to mention visual appeal.

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                Then we bread: put it in the flour, coat, tamp off any excess and move to egg. Do the same with that and breadcrumbs, getting a full and even coat before moving to the hot oil. I could probably talk about methods of dipping; using one hand with “wet” things and the other with “dry,” or just using only one while the other is free for other stuff, but it’s all relative, and there are still even more ideas on how best to do it. Just do what’s comfortable and what works best in the situation (say, if coating en mass and frying LATER, the one hand wet and one dry; using a single hand in both will develop this thick, gooey crust that’s a bitch to get off, believe me).

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                Carefully place in the oil (dropping the edge “away” from you, reduce risk of back-splatter), let sizzle until golden-brown, turn and repeat, moving onto a paper-lined plate once done. Ideally, if slices are thick-ish, this should take maybe a minute or so to give time for the inside to soften. If doing thinner, would want the oil even hotter since it doesn’t need it and so less oil is absorbed.

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                And now we’re done. If I was serving this as a proper eggplant parm, I’d set it on a base of sauce, top with some mozzarella (maybe melt it under a torch or broiler first) and/or ricotta, shred some basil and squeeze a bit of lemon juice. Could do the same thing just inside of a long baguette or hoagie bun for an awesome sandwich!

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                In the moment, I felt like something a little different and simpler; the cut, fried eggplant, my chunky tomato sauce, and some of my homemade sauerkraut (yes that’s a hot dog bun, please ignore it, I didn’t have anything for a hoagie!!!).The eggplant was crispy and crunchy with a soft, moist and thick insides, the tomatoes flavorful and red in look and flavor, and the kraut brought a fun brightness and different kind of crunch to the experience. Very late-night crave-worthy. Sorta wish the green tomatoes I’m pickling now were ready though… but that’s something to discuss later.

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                And there we go, another long rambling of my exploits into making a simple sandwich. Hope those reading were able to enjoy it in some sense, I certainly enjoyed making and eating it. And for all those now looking to continue adventures in frying, eggplant weaving, or simply not caring about what I’ve said at all, I leave with Good Lucks and Good Eatings.

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