Why It Works
- Roasting at a moderate temperature yields juicy, flavorful, and creamy eggplant.
- Combining seasoned ground pork with beaten eggs ensures that the pork sticks to the eggplant during frying.
One of the dishes I request most often when I visit my parents' house is tortang talong, an eggplant cooked whole, peeled, flattened with a fork, dipped in egg, and shallow-fried until golden brown. Growing up, my mom preferred roasting the eggplant, and what would arrive at the table was a study in contrasting textures and flavors: the naturally sweet roasted eggplant offset by the salty seasoning, the soft, creamy flesh encased in the crisp fried exterior.
While tortang talong can be kept vegetarian, my mom often prepared it rellenong, or stuffed. There are many versions of tortang rellenong, including ones stuffed with ground beef, crab, or shrimp—all of them are delicious. But since my mom usually made it with seasoned ground pork, that's the recipe I decided to develop, and I knew that the final dish would incorporate a mixture of cooked onion, garlic, and ground pork, all seasoned with an umami-packed combination of oyster, fish, and soy sauces.
But before I could get to the pork, I needed to sort out how to cook the eggplant. Traditionally, tortang talong uses grilled Japanese eggplant, but in the interest of perfecting this recipe I grilled, broiled, boiled, and roasted Japanese, Chinese, and globe eggplants, and then battered and fried them all. Grilling and broiling produced the smoky, charred eggplant flavor that's typical of the dish, but I found that flavor overpowered the the subtle flavor dynamic created by the cooked eggplant and the fried egg batter coating. Meanwhile, boiling yielded bloated, water-logged eggplant that lacked any depth of flavor. In the end, roasted eggplant proved to be the winner—Mom's method was right (even if she chose it mostly for convenience). Roasted eggplant is mildly sweet, juicy, and tender.
As to the choice of eggplant, I preferred the results produced by slender Japanese eggplant. If you can’t find Japanese eggplant, Chinese eggplant (slightly larger and pale violet in color) are a good substitute. However, I would avoid using globe eggplant for this—because they're large and bulbous they take a long time to roast, and they have a milder flavor that doesn't really stand up well in the finished dish.
Making the dish is relatively simple: While the eggplant roasts, you sauté chopped onion, garlic, and ground pork, and then season the mixture with the oyster, fish, and soy sauces. Once cool, you whisk the pork with some beaten eggs, and set it aside. The roasted eggplant is dipped in a separate mixture of lightly seasoned beaten eggs, placed in a hot skillet, and then the pork-and-egg mixture is spooned over the top—the eggs in the mixture help it to adhere to the frying eggplant. After cooking each eggplant on both sides until the batter is crisp, serve them up with fragrant jasmine rice and banana ketchup, Filipinos’ fruity, glossy take on tomato ketchup, alongside. To me, that's a full, almost perfect meal, which I'd happily eat at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but tortang talong can and should be served as part of a larger spread.
- 4 medium Japanese eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds; 680g total) (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) plus 3/4 cup (175ml) vegetable oil, divided, plus extra as needed
- 1 small yellow onion (4 ounces; 115g), finely chopped
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces (225g) ground pork
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (8ml) fish sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (8ml) soy sauce
- 5 large eggs (250g), divided
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Ketchup or banana ketchup, for serving
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). With the tip of a sharp knife, poke four 1/2-inch slits in each eggplant. Place eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and roast until fully tender, offering little to no resistance when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
Peel eggplant, leaving stems attached; discard skin. With the back of a fork, press down firmly to flatten each eggplant along its length until it resembles a large teardrop in shape; set aside.
In a 12-inch stainless steel, cast iron, or nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ground pork and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces, until cooked through and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat, and set aside to let cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, beat 3 eggs until homogenous and frothy. Add ground pork mixture and stir to combine; set aside. In a wide, shallow dish, beat remaining 2 eggs until homogenous and frothy, season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Clean skillet and return to stovetop.
Adjust oven temperature to 200°F (95°C). Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and line with a double layer of paper towels. In the cleaned skillet, heat 3/4 cup (175ml) vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working with one eggplant at a time, hold eggplant by stem, and evenly coat on all sides with beaten egg mixture. Allow excess egg to drip off, and carefully add to skillet. Repeat coating process with second eggplant and add to skillet. Top each eggplant with a heaping 1/4 cup (60g) of ground pork mixture, evenly pressing mixture down along the length of each eggplant to ensure it adheres to the surface. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until bottom side is golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, carefully flip eggplant and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, about 1 minute 30 seconds.
Transfer eggplant to prepared baking sheet, then transfer to oven to keep warm. Repeat coating and cooking process with remaining eggplant, adding more oil to skillet as needed.
Transfer to individual plates and serve immediately with white rice and ketchup.
If you can't find Japanese eggplant, you can substitute Chinese eggplant. The cooking time may take up to 10 to 15 minutes longer, just be sure to roast the eggplant until it's fully tender.
To enjoy a vegetarian version, you can omit the ground pork mixture, and skip step 3. In Step 4, whisk two eggs with salt and pepper in a wide, shallow dish, then proceed as directed in Step 5.
Make-ahead and Storage
Tortang talong are best enjoyed immediately.