There are as many recipes for eggplant Parmesan, as there are cooks preparing it. Again, eggplant Parmesan is one of those ways that most of us have eaten eggplant. A Google search will give you plenty of ideas on how to make the “best” eggplant Parm ever.
Fried, baked, roasted, one dish, “skinny”…you get the picture (and all the recipes!)
However, the one thing that is crucial to GOOD eggplant Parm is ending up with tender cooked eggplant in a crispy crust, even when in tomato sauce. For this, you have to pay attention to two things: crispy eggplant and non-watery tomato sauce.
The sauce part is easiest, I think. If you make your own, make it THICKER than you normally would for pasta. Not as thick as tomato paste… but definitely thicker than you would make for spaghetti. If you use jarred sauce, put it on the stove, and simmer uncovered until it reduces and thickens up.
The eggplant part is a little more complicated and requires some work in preparation, but it starts with salt. Eggplant benefits from being salted and drained before cooking. Since it contains a good bit of bitter liquid, salting the eggplant and letting it drain gets rid of the undesirable bitterness, and firms up the texture of the eggplant slices so that they do not make the coating soggy when cooking. Cut your eggplant into slices (usually 1/4 inch or so) and sprinkle both sides of each slice with kosher salt before putting in a colander over a bowl or in the sink. Let the salt work its magic for a minimum of 30-45 minutes. I usually let mine go at least an hour, depending on how much liquid I see draining off the eggplant. Pull the slices and put them on a clean kitchen towel (or a layer of paper towels), top with another clean kitchen towel (or another layer of paper towels) and then press down on them to extract the last bits of liquid. Wipe each slice to rid it of salt before you start cooking. The bonus is, you won’t need to add salt to your breading mixture or your tomato sauce!
You can also fill a bowl about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way with VERY salty water. As in…VERY salty. Put the slices into the water and then weight them down with a plate to keep them submerged. You have to bump up the time for this method to be effective, so perhaps slicing and soaking in the morning before work, then pulling them out once you’re home and they’ll be ready to cook. Pull the slices out and again dry them between kitchen or paper towels, then bread away.
I have also found that if I bread my eggplant slices (or anything really) with a mixture of cornmeal and (gluten-free) flour, I get a much crisper texture. If my cornmeal is a little too coarse for my liking I just put it in the food processor and pulse it a bit. A mixture of 3/4 cornmeal to 1/4 gluten-free flour usually results in a breading mixture that is crisp, adheres well, and doesn’t hurt my grain intolerant stomach!
Some of the “fancier” eggplant varieties, such as the Japanese eggplant do not require salting, as they are smaller and firmer without as many seeds or as much liquid. However, I can’t see how you’d get good slices to use for eggplant Parm from these skinny minnies! In the case of eggplant Parm, I guess you could say that size really does matter.