Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grilled Balsamic Eggplant

I think it's funny that I get better grill marks from my grill pan
than I do from my actual grill.
I love to grill. In fact, I just got a new grill that lets me use either propane or charcoal, and has enough total cooking surface that I could cook two sets of those massive ribs that flip Fred Flinstone's car over in the opening sequence of the cartoon. Before the new grill was delivered, I decided to have one last hurrah with the old one (which served me well for over five years despite much abuse). I wanted to grill some steaks, but I was presented with a common griller's dilemma. What kind of side item could I make that wouldn't have me running back and forth between the grill and the stove, hoping that one or the other didn't catch fire while I wasn't in attendance? I decided to pull out an old favorite that I learned to make from watching Good Eats. Alton Brown's eggplant episode is a good one, and it demonstrates a great technique for making eggplant that's simple and very grill-friendly.

I don't remember what Alton's eggplant marinade was, but I've always liked to keep it simple with just some balsamic vinegar. Brushing a little onto the eggplants a few minutes before grilling them gives them a nice hit of flavor without making you wonder why you're eating a vinegar sponge. The marinade isn't really the important part, though. The key to this recipe is in how you prepare the eggplant slices. By leeching some of the moisture out of them with salt, you remove some of the bitterness that eggplants naturally have, and make them more ready to absorb the liquid of your choice.

A simple set of ingredients are nice sometimes.


3 eggplants
about 1/4 cup kosher salt
about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


Draining Rig
Grill or Grill Pan
Basting Brush (recommended)

Start by slicing your eggplants into half-inch thick rounds. Discard the stem end, and the last piece of the bulb end. Place the slices on a draining rig in a single layer.

As usual, my draining rig is some cake racks over a cookie sheet.
Paper towels don't work very well as a draining rig in this case, because the water can't drip away.
In a pinch, you could put the slices directly on your oven rack with a cookie sheet underneath.

Heavily salt the top side of each slice. Wait two minutes, then flip the slices and heavily salt the other sides.

Wait two minutes before salting the second side, because the salt will leech
a little moisture out and stick to the eggplant when it's upside down.

Let the salted eggplant sit and drain for about an hour. You will see liquid collect on the top of each slice.

That liquid has a bitter taste, and removing it will make the eggplant taste better.

Rinse the slices quickly under cold water to remove any excess salt. Pat them dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Baste both sides of each slice with balsamic vinegar, and allow the slices to sit for a few minutes to absorb the liquid.

Placing the slices back on the draining rig is a convenient way to lay them out for basting.

Grill the slices over indirect heat (or medium heat if you're using a grill pan) for about five minutes per side. The eggplant should be tender when they're done.

  • You can substitute lots of different liquids for the balsamic vinegar. I'd recommend something that's a little tangy and a little sweet.
  • The quantities of salt and marinade that you'll use will vary with the size of your eggplants and how thickly you slice them. I used about 1/4 cup of each.
  • Make sure to rinse the extra salt off of the eggplant. You need a generous coating to pull moisture out of the slices, but you will not enjoy the taste if you leave it on.
  • If you have a larger grill, you can grill these while you're grilling some steaks. Put the steaks in the middle of the grill over the highest heat, and put the eggplant around the sides. If you cook your steaks to medium rare, the eggplant will be done at about the same time.

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