But Why Do I Need to Salt This Eggplant?
Spoiler alert: you might not need to.
There are the things you do because they’re probably good for your health in some way: change your water filters, floss between most of your teeth, eat a vegetable now and again.
And then there are things you do because someone at some point in your life told you this is just the way these things are done: thump watermelons to check for ripeness, roll lemons against the counter to get more juice, and salt eggplant.
Why do we do things just because someone said so? Who knows. But if you’ve never felt the gravitational pull to the salt pig every time you’ve sliced, cubed, or quartered beautiful eggplant, you’re missing out on an inexplicable culinary tradition.
What does salting eggplant do?
Salting eggplant is often explained on two points: The first point contends that eggplants can be quite bitter, and salting helps cut the bitterness. (No, salt doesn’t draw out bitterness. It just helps hide it.)
Second, salting eggplants reduces the sponginess and leaves you with a creamy, silky texture. It does this by drawing out water and collapsing some of the eggplant walls. Without the sponge-like walls of the eggplant, the texture will be vastly improved over the styrofoam-esque texture of raw eggplant.
Of course, here’s the part where I tell you why these points are wrong.
So do you have to salt eggplant?
Over the last century, farmers and agricultural engineers have bred eggplants to not be as bitter as their ancestors. Yes, when your great-grandmother was salting eggplant, it really did have an astringent zing in every bite. But for you today, that’s not likely to be the case.
Today, the typical eggplant has very little bite. Older, larger eggplant might be more bitter than smaller, younger plants. As the eggplant ages, it can become bitter, so in that case, a bit of salt might help. But for your eggplants you picked up this weekend at the farmers’ market, you can probably skip the salt.
If you want great texture for eggplant, the most important thing is matching your salting status to your cooking method.
Roasting: Eggplant parm, which just demands silky, velvety eggplant doesn’t need to be salted because the long, slow bake actually does all the work of turning eggplant rounds into smooth pieces. The same goes for roasted eggplant cooked by itself.
Grilling: Grilled eggplant, which is quickly seared over high heat, doesn’t need the salt either.
Frying: If you’re slicing eggplant rounds for pan-frying or deep-frying, go ahead and salt them. Not only will it draw out moisture to make the pieces more tender, the food will cook better without the extra water in each piece.
Stir-frying and pan-searing: That’s true too for stir-frying, too. Whenever added moisture might impact the final dish’s outcome, it’s a good idea to salt for a bit. Drawing out even a bit of moisture will help the eggplant caramelize and cook without worrying about moisture leaching out and steaming the food.
Of course, you can salt any eggplant you want. These guidelines above are just permission to skip it if you don’t want to bother or don’t have the time. If you want to salt because that’s just the way the universe goes ‘round for you, please, by all means, salt away.