Chicken with spicy garlic eggplant, at home

It’s my go-to dish when we order out Chinese food, but I’ve rarely cooked with eggplant, myself.

During the family’s trip to the Super G Mart in Charlotte this weekend, the Co-Pilot decided she wanted some Chinese eggplant, which led me to go grab some oyster sauce, jalapeños, and Thai basil, all to go with the chicken we already had at home.

Following the rough outlines of the New York Times recipe for spicy chicken eggplant, I was able to put together my own version, albeit with one key variation borne of a mistake.

As I let the chunked eggplant sweat, I de-veined and diced two jalapeños and put them in a ramekin. I then added some diced garlic from a jar, and set the ramekin aside. However, after I got the pan hot and added oil, I immediately dumped in the chunked chicken instead of cooking down the peppers and garlic.

It ended up being fine, because I cooked down the peppers and garlic, then added the eggplant to that mixture, thus inverting the recommended process. However, I’m pretty sure that while it tasted good, it would have been better the other way because the whole idea is to cook the chicken in a particularly spicy oil, then add the eggplant and cook it such that its slight bitterness contrasts with the spicy chicken. In this instance, the eggplant took on much of that spicy flavor, and the chicken, though bearing traces of the various spicy and salty stuff I added, tasted mostly like plain stir-fried chicken chunks.

In addition to substituting oyster sauce for fish sauce and inadvertently switching up the order of things, I added some Huy Fong chili garlic sauce to the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar mixture that’s among the final ingredients. I wasn’t sure I’d get enough spice from de-veined jalapeños, so I figured I’d add a little more kick where I could.

Finally, I was very happy to be able to add the final ingredient, one that truly does take this dish from “kind of interesting” to “gimme more”: the Thai basil.

The basil brings another element to the dish that heightens everything else in it. Yes, you taste it, and you see its dark wilted green up against the whites and browns and purples of the meat and eggplant, but its greatest contribution is creating harmony with the other ingredients. Leaving it out is a bad idea.

Finally, you may have noticed I used a regular pan to cook the dish on the stovetop. I’d prefer to use a wok, and we had one, but it was a cheap piece of equipment that after a few years suffered some damage and we simply haven’t gotten around to getting a new one yet. We can deal.