Eggplant: Why do you salt it?

Last updated 13:16 19/06/2014
Marina Oliphant

SEASONING MYSTERY: Salting reduces the water content of eggplant, improving its texture for frying.

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Do I need to salt my eggplant before cooking? E. Carr

I was in Italy once talking to a home cook who was preparing her eggplants for sott'olio or preserving under oil. She cut the eggplant into pieces then liberally salted them.

I asked her if this was to assuage the bitterness. She said no, it was to reduce the water content so the eggplant would keep better. She added that she also did something similar when making caponata, the traditional Sicilian agrodolce sauce made with eggplant, celery and capers.

She squeezed some raw eggplant between her fingers and said, "See the raw eggplant is like a sponge. This will soak up the oil when you fry it leaving no oil for anything else." She then took a piece that had been sprinkled with salt. It was denser and had given up some liquid.

"This, when you fry it, will not go pastoso or pasty." Her caponata was truly delicious and the eggplant still had a firm mouthfeel.

What is ciguatera and can I catch it? M. Carruthers

You can't catch it but you can catch fish that will give it to you. It's a type of food poisoning that comes from eating tropical fish that are at the top of the food chain and have eaten fish that have consumed tiny marine plankton (dinoflagellates) that produce a toxin.

The commercial fishers target smaller fish in the affected species so it is unlikely you will get it from shop-bought fish.

A recent report in a journal published by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation says that with global warming either the plankton or the fish that accumulate the toxin are moving south and one amateur fisher in NSW was poisoned from eating a fish caught in waters there.

When I make mashed potato, it goes gluey. M. Robbins

As a kid did you ever make papier-mache? A grown-up would cook flour in water until it formed a thick glue. During cooking the starch granules absorb water molecules and form a gel. A similar process occurs in potatoes.

If you break open the cooked starch granules in the potato they release this water and starch gel and you literally end up with glue. When you enrich potatoes with butter or oil you are trying to gently coat the starch granules with fat to give the mixture a creamy texture without breaking them open. If, however, you put cooked potato into a food processor then the blades will break up the granules and you will end up with potato glue. Here are a few basics to avoid gluey mash.

Firstly, steer clear of waxy potatoes. Look for starchy varieties such as King Edward or Coliban. Cover potatoes in cold water then simmer gently, don't boil them vigorously. When soft, drain and leave on low heat to allow the steam to evaporate. Warm the butter in milk with salt and add to the potatoes while still hot. Mash as gently and briefly as possible.

I can't confirm it but apparently mashed potato was the reason lamb shanks in gravy were invented.

What is quatre epices? M. Le

Quatre epices is French and translates as ''four spices'' referring to the blend of finely ground pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and sometimes ground ginger. This is used in savoury dishes. A sweet version can be made with allspice instead of pepper.

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