Eggplant Parmesan is one of those classic dinner entrées that delivers delicious results and really impresses guests. Luckily we’ve collected plenty of tips over the years and want to share them with you.
Dredging and frying are two basic culinary skills that everyone should understand. We’ll give you the rundown on how to fry up those hearty slices of eggplant, and then use them to layer up a bubbly hot casserole everyone will love.
Fried eggplant is one of those ingredients we love having on hand at all times. It provides excellent texture and flavor to dishes that may otherwise lack those important features.
Once the bitter flavors are extracted from eggplant, the purple berry works to soak up loads of fat when fried, then takes on its own unique flavor once cooked. It’s one of those ingredients not everyone is fond of, but when made right, you’ll really fall in love.
The only problem with frying eggplant is that it’s a lengthy process and discourages many from making it often. For that exact reason, when we fry eggplant, we always make a little extra and store a few slices in the freezer.
That way, when we need a quick dinner rescue, eggplant saves the day. It tastes amazing on flatbread, layered into a deep-dish pizza, in sandwiches, or baked into an Italian casserole.
We won’t go down the list of every ingredient used in Eggplant Parmesan, but we’ll talk about a few gems that make the dish shine.
Here are some details about those ingredients:
- Eggplant: There are several types of eggplant, including fairy tale, Japanese, and graffiti, all of which have distinct differences in appearance and texture. Feel free to grab a standard globe eggplant for Eggplant Parmesan, which is large, dark purple, and boasts a hearty texture perfect for a layered dish like this one.
- Cheese: We always recommend spending a few extra bucks and getting fresh mozzarella cheese for this recipe. It makes a massive difference in the flavor category.
- Marinara: Making a homemade version of this is pretty simple. Add a bit of chopped onion and minced garlic to a saucepan coated with olive oil and cook for a few minutes. Add a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and season with red pepper flakes, Italian herbs, salt, and pepper, and then simmer for about 20 minutes. If you’d rather use a jarred sauce, our favorite is Rao’s Marinara (it’s the only jarred sauce Ina Garten recommends, too).
- Basil: We love layering fresh basil into the dish and finishing it with a few chopped-up leaves before serving. The aromatic herb adds a touch of light and earthy oomph, which is welcomed for a homey and heavy dish like this one.
As long as you know not to skimp on those four ingredients, your dish should be quite delicious, but be sure to read through our tried-and-true tips, too.
We’ve made Eggplant Parmesan countless times, so we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. From freezing fresh mozzarella to slicing eggplant lengthwise, there’s an important reason we do each of these.
Here are seven tips we’ve discovered over the years:
- Always salt the eggplant: Salting eggplant does two things: It removes the excess moisture within the fruit (yup, it’s a fruit), which is essential before frying it up and rids some bitterness. Today, eggplants have been bred to taste less bitter, but we always generously sprinkle them with kosher salt as it helps season the berry, remove excess liquid, and helps its unique flavor really shine.
- Slice the eggplant lengthwise: Cut down on frying time, and reach more surface area by cutting your eggplant lengthwise, rather than slicing little rounds.
- Slice thin layers: Really thick pieces of eggplant might not fry all the way through, leaving you with a crunchy, raw-tasting eggplant.
- Use a serrated bread knife: If you plan to slice lengthwise, we recommend using a long sharp chef’s knife or an offset serrated bread knife to easily saw through the globe eggplant’s tough skin. Start by slicing a small piece of the rounded side, and then turn the eggplant onto the cut side to use it as a flat and level edge before cutting your slices.
- Don’t skimp on dredging: Use the standard dredging method to achieve a perfectly crispy coating. That means starting with flour, dipping in beaten egg, and then adding a final layer of breadcrumbs before frying.
- Make the marinara: The sauce you use for this dish will make or break your experience, so make sure it’s a good one. We recommend homemade because it’s super simple and quick. Again, if you’re short on time, we recommend Rao’s jarred marinara for a really light and fresh-flavored sauce that tastes authentic. If you plan to go with a different brand, be sure to spruce it up with a dash of heavy cream, fresh basil, or a bit of grated Parmesan for a richer flavor.
- Freeze fresh mozzarella: If you’ve ever tried shredding fresh mozzarella, you know it’s not the easiest task. This soft cheese breaks down and turns into an ugly mess. If you don’t want to use slices but would rather work with shredded cheese, freeze the fresh mozzarella for an hour before grating. It will harden up just enough to grate more easily and still deliver the superior flavor you won’t get from pre-shredded cheese.
It’s almost time to get to work! We typically get our fingers messy (it’s part of the fun!) when it’s time to coat the slices of eggplant. However, feel free to use a set of tongs for a cleaner experience.
Eggplant Parmesan doesn’t require anything too special, but having quality cooking equipment will certainly make for a more seamless experience.
Here are four tools we always use when making the dish:
Cast-iron skillet: This American-made, preseasoned cast iron skillet by Lodge is one of those pieces of cookware I use weekly. Its tough exterior and ability to heat up and stay hot make this skillet superior to other skillets, especially for searing, roasting, and even heating oil to fry foods.
Cheese knife: We love collecting various culinary knives, and this cheese knife by Cutco is one we especially appreciate having on hand. The open blade means a minimal surface area, perfect for slicing through soft cheeses like fresh mozzarella without sticking.
A long set of tongs: You’ll definitely need these for frying up those eggplant slices, but these really long ones will keep you safe from any splashing oil.
A casserole dish: This is a must to distribute the heat evenly through your casserole. Any kind will do just fine (we use a simple Pyrex casserole dish). If you want to add a really nice piece of cookware to your collection, Le Creuset’s enameled stoneware casserole dish is top of the line and maintains high temperatures incredibly well. Plus, it’s nice to look at!
We’ve provided some of our favorite tips, and you know just what you’ll need to fry the eggplant. Now, it’s time to get your hands messy.
When made just right, a bubbly hot Eggplant Parmesan will boast excellent flavor and make other casseroles look plain mediocre. With quality ingredients and the right steps, you’ll make a crowd-pleasing meal your family, friends, and guests will truly love.
Here’s everything you need to make it:
- 1-2 Medium-large globe eggplants
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3-4 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup of milk
- 2-1/2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 4-6 cups of prepared marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup of fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 16 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup of fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Slice a small rounded piece of eggplant off from the side, and then use the flat surface from the cut side to secure your eggplant. Slice the eggplant lengthwise, and then lay all the slices out and generously salt them with kosher salt. Set aside for about 45 minutes, or until you notice small pools of moisture build to the top of each slice.
While your eggplant is sitting, prepare a dredging station with three shallow bowls. Fill one bowl with flour, another with breadcrumbs, and the other with beaten eggs and milk. Set a large dish next to the bowl with breadcrumbs.
Once your eggplant slices have released moisture, place the slices in a large colander and rinse under cold water. Pat each of the pieces dry. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Working one slice of eggplant at a time, start dredging the pieces. Start by coating a slice with flour, followed by the beaten eggs, and then finish with the breadcrumbs. Work through all the slices of eggplant and place each slice in the large dish.
Once all the slices are finished, clean up your area. Pour vegetable oil to a depth of about 1/2 an inch and turn to medium heat. Once your oil has reached 375 degrees Fahrenheit, work in batches to fry two or three pieces at a time, working carefully not to crowd the skillet.
Work through the batch of eggplant using long tongs; fry each side for about 20 seconds, or until they have turned a golden-brown crisp exterior. Once fried, carefully transfer each slice to a paper toweled-lined baking sheet and salt the fried pieces. You might need to add a bit of extra oil to the skillet about halfway through your batch.
Layer your casserole dish starting with about 1/2 cup of marinara sauce, followed by a layer of eggplant, then another cup of marinara sauce, half of the chopped basil, Parmesan cheese, then fresh mozzarella slices. Repeat until you’ve used all of your ingredients. Save some fresh basil for garnishing.
Place your Eggplant Parmesan casserole in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until it begins to bubble and turn golden brown on top. Notice we used a smaller casserole dish, mainly because we wanted to save some of the fried slices of eggplant to freeze for later use.
Serve with a plate of pasta topped with marinara and garnish with cracked black pepper and fresh chopped basil.
There you have it: homemade Eggplant Parmesan. The more you make it, the easier it will become. And trust us—after your family tastes this, you’ll be making it a lot!
After you master homemade Eggplant Parmesan, why stop there? There are plenty of yummy pasta dishes you can make to impress your family and friends. Before you know it, people will be asking you to bring your delicious creations to the next get-together.