Mapo Eggplant (麻婆茄子 - Mabo Nasu)
Mapo Eggplant, which is known as Mabo Nasu (麻婆茄子 or マーボー茄子) here in Japan, is a popular Chinese-style dish that was created in the image of Mapo Tofu. The eggplant is flash fried before being stir-fried and braised in a savory sauce made with dark miso, aromatics, and dashi stock, which infuse the eggplant with loads of flavor. The creamy eggplant takes the place of tofu resulting in an umami-packed dish that goes great over a bowl of rice. Although this version contains meat, you can easily make a vegan and vegetarian friendly version by preparing the eggplant according to this recipe and using my Vegan Mapo Tofu recipe for the sauce.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Flash-frying the eggplant preserves the vibrant purple color of the skin while rendering the inside tender and creamy.
- By braising the eggplant in a Japanese-style Mapo Tofu sauce, it has a chance to absorb the umami from the dashi, miso, oyster sauce, and mirin.
- Finishing the dish with rayu allows you to adjust the spice level at the table, so if you have someone who can't take a lot of heat in your household, they can still eat this.
Ingredients for Mapo Eggplant
- Stock - I recommend using Japanese dashi, but if you don't have the ingredients, chicken stock or vegetable stock will work.
- Miso - This fermented seasoning made from soybeans is a staple in Japanese cuisine, and it's the primary seasoning for this Mapo Eggplant. It comes in many varieties, but for this dish, I like using Hatcho miso, an all-soybean miso that's aged for 2 years, giving it a coffee brown color and rich earthy flavor that's similar to fermented black bean sauce.
- Oyster Sauce - Oyster sauce compliments the nutty flavor of the miso with boatloads of savory umami. If you can't find it, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of soy sauce with a teaspoon of sugar.
- Mirin - Mirin is a sweet rice wine that adds sweetness and umami to foods cooked with it. I recommend using a brewed mirin intended for drinking as the ones for cooking are usually fake mirin made with corn syrup and MSG. The alcohol evaporates as the sauce cooks, so you don't need to worry about that, but if you can't find it, you can substitute a teaspoon of sugar.
- Potato starch - I prefer thickening my sauces with potato starch (as opposed to cornstarch) because the viscosity doesn't change much as it cools. If you can't find it, you can substitute other types of starch, but you may need to adjust the amount of starch you add accordingly.
- Eggplant - I used Japanese eggplant for this, but any tender-skinned eggplant with small seeds will work just fine.
- Scallions - The white stem part of the scallions gets minced up and stir-fried with the other aromatics. The greens get chopped up and used as a garnish. I used thick green onions known as Tokyo Negi, but regular scallions will work.
- Aromatics - I used grated ginger and garlic for my aromatics. You can also mince them finely, but I prefer grating them because their flavors disperse more uniformly into the sauce.
- Ground meat - Ground pork is the typical choice for making Mapo Eggplant in Japan, but other types of meat, such as ground chicken or ground beef, will work.
- Chili oil - Japanese chili oil is known as rayu, and I like using Ishigaki Shima Rayu from Okinawa. It has a bunch of spices and seasonings that make it more flavorful than plain chili oil, but if you can't order it, any chili oil will work. If you use regular chili oil I recommend adding some ground Sichuan peppercorns.
How to Make Mapo Eggplant
First, combine the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl, including the dashi, hatcho miso, oyster sauce, mirin, and potato starch. Hatcho miso is very firm, so I usually chop it up with the side of a spatula and then use the broad side to mash up the little chunks of miso into the dashi.
Prepare a high-sided pot with about an inch of oil and preheat it to 360°F (180°C). You'll also want to set a wire rack over a tray to drain the eggplant after it's fried.
I like to cut my eggplant into an oblique shape, which is called rangiri in Japanese. This allows you to cut oblong vegetables into pieces that are roughly the same size and thickness. To do this, trim off the tops and then use a knife at a 45° angle to the eggplant to cut off a triangular chunk. Next, rotate the eggplant a quarter turn, then cut off another piece with the knife held at the same angle.
Next, you want to flash fry the eggplant in batches by lowering them into the oil. Use chopsticks or tongs to quickly flip any pieces over so the skin side faces down. The high temperature of the oil sets the pigments in the eggplant skin, so they stay vibrant purple. After a minute, transfer the eggplant to the wire rack to drain. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant.
Eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge, so you'll want to drain it some more by laying down 3-4 sheets of paper towels and then spreading the eggplant over them in a single layer. Then you can use another 3-4 sheets of paper towels to gently press on the eggplant to remove as much oil as possible. Some of the eggplants will still be very hot, so be careful when you do this.
To assemble the Mapo Eggplant, heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and then stir-fry the grated garlic and ginger for about thirty seconds or until they're very fragrant. Next, add the minced scallion stems and stir-fry the aromatics until they're translucent; this should take about a minute.
Dump the ground pork into the mixture and crumble it up using the side of a spatula. You want to get some good Maillard browning on the meat, so continue to stir-fry this for another three minutes. The pork will release a lot of fat, so tip the pan up and use a paper towel to absorb all the oil that pools to one side.
Add the eggplant to the pan and toss it with the ground meat. Give the sauce ingredients another stir to redistribute any settled starch, and then pour it into the Mapo Eggplant. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Simmer the eggplant together with the sauce for about three minutes. The goal is to get the sauce to thicken while allowing the flavors to meld with the eggplant.
To finish the Mapo Eggplant, add rayu to taste and stir it in. You can also leave the rayu out and serve it as a condiment at the table so that people can adjust the heat level to taste.
Other Eggplant Recipes
- Miso Glazed Eggplant
- Nikumiso Dengaku (Stuffed Miso Eggplant)
- Vegan Unagi
- Japanese Sweet & Sour Chicken
Mapo Eggplant is a mashup of Sichuan spicy eggplant (鱼香茄子 - Yú xiāng qiézi) and Japanese-style Mapo Tofu (マーボー豆腐). The eggplant is usually flash-fried before being cooked in a savory and mildly spicy sauce that's similar to the one used for Mapo Tofu. It's a staple of Wafu-Chuka, or Japanese-style Chinese cuisine, and was popularized in the 1980s by a few brands which began to sell instant sauces that could be combined with stir-fried meat and eggplant to make the dish.
Mapo Eggplant is a 4-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ma like mall
po like pole
na like knob
su like soup
- ¾ cup dashi stock
- 1 tablespoon hatcho miso
- 2 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- 450 grams Japanese eggplant
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 10 grams garlic (grated)
- 5 grams ginger (grated)
- 40 grams scallion stems (finely minced)
- 140 grams ground pork
- 1 tablespoon rayu (chili oil)
- scallion greens (chopped for garnish)
- Add the dashi, hatcho miso, oyster sauce, mirin, and potato starch to a bowl and mash the miso up to help it dissolve into the sauce.
- Start preheating 1 inch of oil in a heavy pot with high sides to 360°F (180°C). Prepare a wire rack over a metal tray.
- Trim the tops off the eggplant and cut them into an oblique cut by slicing off a piece at a 45-degree angle, rotating the eggplant a quarter turn, and then slicing off another piece at the same angle.
- Flash fry the eggplant in batches for 1 minute and then transfer it to the wire rack to drain. Repeat until all of the eggplant is fried.
- Lay down 3-4 sheets of paper towels on a work surface, and spread the fried eggplant on top in a single layer. Next, use another 3-4 sheets of paper towels to gently press on the eggplant to squeeze out any excess oil. Be careful, as the eggplant may still be very hot.
- Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of oil along with the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
- Add the minced scallion stems and continue stir-frying until they're translucent (another 1 minute).
- Add the ground pork and use the side of the spatula to crumble it up. Continue to stir-fry the pork for about 3 minutes or until it's well browned and has released a lot of oil.
- Tip the pan a little and use a paper towel to soak up the excess oil as it drains to one side.
- Add the eggplant to the pan and then give the sauce ingredients a stir before pouring it in.
- Let the sauce cook with the eggplant until it thickens up and it can absorb the sauce flavors (about 3 minutes).
- Finish the Mapo Eggplant with a drizzle of rayu to taste (I used a tablespoon) and garnish with scallion greens.