I was making eggplant parmesan for dinner the other night. I had a houseguest who was watching my preparations and was shocked to see that I didn’t salt the eggplant. I never have done that and think that mine comes out fine. Is there a reason I should add the salting step to my preparation?
Salting and draining watery vegetables like eggplant and zucchini is a time-honored technique. It’s done for two reasons. One is to rid the vegetable of bitter juices, something that’s not really necessary with the newer varieties. Heirloom varieties may still be improved by doing this. And Marcella Hazan maintains that the longer the eggplant has been off the plant, the more bitter it becomes, although I can’t say I’ve noticed this myself. The other reason is to eliminate excess moisture, and this still is often warranted.
If you skip this step, eggplant will soak up a lot more oil when you fry it, and zucchini will simmer rather than fry. If you’re happy with the way you’re making eggplant parmesan now, there’s no reason to change what you’re doing. However, you might find it interesting to try salting and draining the eggplant before proceeding with the recipe to see how the results differ. You may be surprised to find you like it better.
Especially in Italian recipes, this technique is often used. An example is eggplant rolls, which would be impossible to make if this step were skipped. The eggplant is sliced thin lengthwise, then salted and drained before flouring and frying prior to filling. The slices wouldn’t be pliable enough to roll otherwise. Another is a simple recipe like fried zucchini, where the slices will brown and their delicate flavor will be brought out by this technique.
There are other times to try this. Cucumbers also have a high water content, and salting them before they go into a salad or sauce such as tsatziki improves the end result. To make a tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes that doesn’t requires hours of cooking to reduce down, chop, salt, and drain them first. Or for a coleslaw that stays crisp and doesn’t get bogged down in soggy dressing, salt and drain the shredded cabbage before finishing the salad. I make kimchi by leaving the sliced cabbage and daikon in a small amount of salted water overnight, which jump-starts the fermentation process.
Salt isn’t just for seasoning food, and this is a perfect example of one of its myriad cooking uses.