Yuxiang Eggplant at Le Piment Rouge in Montreal
I have had many occasions to post some fairly scathing reviews of dishes I sampled at the now defunct Piment Rouge Restaurant in Montreal. What had once been a high-end restaurant went into noticeable decline in its final days and this showed in both service and food quality. The Yuxiang Eggplant Appetizer you see above, however, was on of the few dish I ate there that was actually pretty good.
Now, I have to note, at the outset, that the Yuxiang Eggplant at Le Piment Rouge, while good, was not a very good illustration of the cookery technique its name suggests.
In Chinese cookery, the name ‘Yuxiang‘, or 魚香, (which translates as ‘fish fragrant, despite no fish being used), refers to a technique in which the main ingredients are served in a sauce that begins with the classic scallion, ginger, garlic trio, and then is built upon with the spicy-umami body of a fermented chili-bean paste, and complimented by sugar and vinegar for a subtle sweet and sour background.
Eggplant is actually one of the main ingredients appearing in Yuxiang dishes, although, generally, the vegetable is cut into strips and stir-fried with a Yuxiang sauce. Here, however, Le Piment Rouge did something rather innovative, and hollowed out sections of thin, Asian eggplants, steamed the section until tender, and then filled them with the diced flesh from the center which was first cooked in something which they refer to as a ‘Yuxiang Sauce’.
In truth, this rendition bore only a passing resemblance to the Sichuan classic style in terms of flavor. This rendition was sweet, to be sure, but there were no sour notes at all, and there was just a hint of ginger but no garlic. The spicy heat came from just a few flecks of dried chili visible in the sauce, but the umami quality (derived from fermented chili-bean paste, and absolutely essential for a Yuxiang Sauce) was glaringly absent.
Still, Le Piment Rouge was really a Cantonese establishment, not Sichuanese, so they get some leeway for not being truly ‘authentic’. As it was, the eggplant was beautifully cooked, with a nice creamy texture, and the sauce, if not really a Yuxiang sauce, was ultimately very tasty.