Yuxiang Qiezi – Recipe (With Bonus Smacked Cucumber Recipe)

One of my absolute favourite Sichuanese dishes is 鱼香茄子: yuxiang qiezi, or 'fish-fragrant' aubergine. But despite it's name, there's no fish involved.

The folk story goes that one day a housewife had some leftover sauce from cooking fish, and was preparing aubergines for dinner. Not wanting to waste the sauce, she used it to cook up the aubergine – and it turned out to be a huge flavour combination hit. Hence 'fish-fragrant', because the sauce was originally for a fish dish.

Luckily for my Sichuanese husband, I've long been a massive fan of the spicy-numbing cuisine. A lava-level-of-spice hotpot is my idea of heaven. But Yuxiang qiezi is a good entry-level dish for those who don't like hugely spicy dishes, but do appreciate a bit of a kick. It's tangy, sour-sweet sauce is super addictive, and goes so well with the crispy, buttery aubergine.

I adapted the amazing Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe to suit my tastes and to make it fully vegetarian (for example adding Sichuan peppercorn because I absolutely love its zingy 'ma' flavour, using vegetable stock instead of chicken, and lightly dusting the aubergine in cornflour for an extra-crispy coating). Fuchsia's an English food writer, and the first westerner to train as a professional chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu – I have massive respect for her. If you're interested in Chinese food, do give her book 'Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper' a read.

Some recipes call for minced pork, some without – prefer without, and totally agree with Fuchsia in that it's simply not needed for this delicious veggie dish.

Ready? Let's go.

Ingredients for Yuxiang Qiezi

2 large aubergines (about 600g – I used Western aubergines but Chinese ones are prettier if you can get them, and you may need more than two of those as they're skinnier)
Sea salt for sprinkling
100ml groundnut oil for frying
3 tbsp cornflour for coating
2 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy fermented bean paste)
4 cm cube of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 spring onions, chopped (reserve the green part for the final step)
1 tsp roughly-ground Sichuan peppercorns
150ml vegetable stock
2 tsp caster sugar
4 tsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water
2 tsp black Chinkiang vinegar


1. Slice the aubergines into chip-like batons, and sprinkle a large pinch of salt over them, tossing to coat evenly. Place in a colander to drain for at least 30mins.

2. Heat the oil in the wok until a wooden chopstick poked into the middle sizzles immediately. Quickly toss the drained aubergine in the 3 tbsp cornflour, making sure it's evenly-coated, and fry until golden and crisp in four batches. Drain the fried aubergine on paper towel.

3. If you need to, add a dash more oil to the wok, and heat until smoking. Add the doubanjiang (be careful of splatter) and fry for a minute until fragrant, then quickly add the ginger, garlic, spring onion whites and Sichuan peppercorns. Turn the heat down to medium and stir-fry for another two minutes, then add the vegetable stock, sugar and cornflour slurry, stirring until the sauce is thickened.

4. Toss the fried aubergine in the sauce to coat, stir in the black vinegar and place on a plate to serve. Finally, sprinkle over the spring onion greens. Serve with rice – and, if you like, a refreshing cold side-dish of 拍黄瓜 pai huang gua: smacked cucumber.

Bonus Recipe: Smacked Cucumber

1. Rinse and dry a cucumber, and chop the ends off. Place on a sturdy chopping board, and with the flat of a heavy knife or cleaver, give the cucumber a good few smacks until it's crushed and splitting. This helps remove some excess water and gives the cucumber more surface area to soak up the vinaigrette.

2. Chop the cucumber up into chunks and place in a bowl. In another small bowl, mix 2 tbsp light soya sauce, 2 tbsp black Chinkiang vinegar, 1 tsp chilli oil, 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and 1 tsp caster sugar with a finely-chopped clove of garlic and a finely-chopped 1cm cube piece of peeled ginger.

3. When you're ready to serve, toss the cucumber with the viniagrette (don't do this too long before you want to eat it as the dressing will cause the cucumber to lose even more water, which will dilute the dressing over time).

Enjoy, and have fun.


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