The flavor of the eggplant in this dish is based on the style of cooking found in the province of Sichuan in China. If you can find them, fiery Sichuan peppercorns — roasted and ground — give this dish its final hat. The pickled eggplants would also work brilliantly served cold with slices of rare roast beef or pink lamb.
Adapted from "A Year in My Kitchen" by Skye Gyngell.
For the pickled eggplants:
- 1 pound 2 ounces eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1-inch cubes
- Sea salt
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
- 3 shallots, peeled and minced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 5 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (rice wine)
- 1 tablespoons chile oil
- 4 tablespoons superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground (optional)
For the roasted halibut:
- 4 halibut fillets, about 5 ½ ounces each
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
For the pickled eggplants:
Place the eggplant cubes in a colander, salt well, and set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, separate the cilantro stems, saving a handful of the leaves. Pound the stems using a mortar and pestle. Pat the eggplant cubes dry with paper towels.
Place a wok over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil and heat until almost smoking. Cook the eggplant cubes in small batches, until golden brown on all sides, then remove and drain on paper towels.
Pour off excess oil from the wok, then add the ginger, shallots, garlic, and pounded cilantro stems. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the soy sauces, vinegar, wine, chile oil, and sugar. Let bubble vigorously for a minute or so.
Return the eggplant to the wok, turn down the heat a little, and cook for another 2 minutes, tossing and turning the eggplant so it absorbs the sweet, sour flavors. Roughly tear the cilantro leaves and toss them through the eggplant with the ground Sichuan pepper.
For the halibut:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (convection oven to 350 degrees). Season the fish generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof pan that will hold the fish without overcrowding (use two pans if necessary). Add the olive oil and when it is just starting to smoke, lay the halibut, skin side down, in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes without moving or turning, then place the pan in the oven (still without turning the fish) and cook until the skin is gloriously brown and crunchy, 2-3 minutes.
Place a spoonful or 2 of the pickled eggplants on each warm plate. Carefully turn the fish and lay it skin side up alongside. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.