I once heard a story about a woman who lost her wedding ring while dipping fish in batter – and how her son then ate it. Not only did this story stick in my young head, it raised questions. What sort of ring was it, and how big? Why didn’t she feel it fall off, or notice the lump? Did the son notice as he swallowed? Did he choke? What happened the next day? (I had a good idea about what happened the next day because this story met with another about a piece of Lego.) Four decades on, and this story still bursts up like a sprinkler on a timer every time I dip anything in anything, even without a ring.
I also have mixed feelings about the triple dip, which sounds as much like a gymnastic move as it does a cooking instruction. While I enjoy the preparation, setting out the three plates of flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and the sequence of moves to coat evenly, the process inevitably annoys me. Because, regardless of how organised I set out to be, mess invariably creeps in for a hostile takeover: egg in the crumbs, lumps in the egg and spills everywhere.
Another problem is that fingers also get a triple coating. Do you rub it off, or rinse them under the tap? Or carry on with thick fingers, in which case dipping can feel a bit like fastening buttons wearing woollen gloves. By the last round of aubergine, which is invariably patchy because there isn’t enough of one of the dips, I usually feel cross. This passes, though, with clearing up, wiping any leftover flour, egg and crumb mess from the work surface and on to a plate, then shaping it into what we call a cow-pat patty, to be fried along with the aubergines.
When it comes to frying, I find a medium-sized, 7½cm-deep frying pan works best, positioned at the back of the stove, and in it about 5cm of oil – sunflower, peanut, vegetable or olive. Breadcrumbed aubergine of the thickness I like needs about five minutes, and a relatively low frying temperature of about 160C, which means the slices don’t darken too deeply before they are cooked through and creamy in the middle. You can test the temperature with a thermometer or a cube of bread: you want it to bob around in a coat of bubbles (as opposed to a violent boil) and turn golden steadily.
It’s a wonder how aubergine changes, how its bouncy, sponge-like texture cooks and collapses into an almost velvet consistency, which is seasoned by the salt in the flour, coated by the egg and contained by the rough breadcrumb crust. Greek yoghurt mixed with a grated (and squeezed) cucumber, minced mint and a pinch of salt makes a good companion and cool contrast to breadcrumbed aubergine. Tomato and finely chopped onion salad is also great. Or you could make, or buy, a smooth tomato sauce or green sauce and serve with that. If anyone does eat the ring, the cowpat patty is the prize.
Prep 15 min
Cook 15 min
100g plain flour
Salt and black pepper
200g fine breadcrumbs
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Cut the aubergine into rounds. Their pear shape will mean some are bigger than others – this isn’t a problem, but try to keep them all about 1½cm thick.
Put the flour on a plate and season it with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs, then put these in a bowl. Finally, put the breadcrumbs on a third plate and mix them with the parmesan. Have a fourth empty plate ready.
Dip both sides of each aubergine round first into the flour, then the egg, then the crumbs, making sure they are well covered, including at the edges, then put on the empty plate. Mix any leftover flour egg and crumbs together and form a flat patty.
I find a deep, medium-sized frying pan best. Heat 5cm of oil until it reaches a low temperature for frying– about 160C. You can test this with a thermometer or when a cube of bread fries steadily in it, bobbing around a little, as opposed to a violent boil.
Working in batches, fry the aubergines, turning, until golden. Once ready, lift on to a plate lined with kitchen towel to blot briefly, then serve immediately.