Why You Might Want To Skip Breading When Making Eggplant Parmesan

Given the popularity of chicken parmesan, one might think that the dish eggplant parmesan, which features eggplant slices layered between tomato sauce and cheese, is simply a spin-off. But in fact, eggplant parmesan likely came first, as a southern Italian dish called melanzane alla Parmigiana, per Paesana.

The name is not the only difference between the traditional Italian dish and its American-Italian cousin. While breadcrumbs are an essential ingredient in many eggplant parmesan recipes today, the Italian version historically doesn't call for breading the eggplant slices before they're cooked. Sources as early as the 18th and 19th centuries describe the dish simply as stewed layers of vegetable with cheese, basil, and either broth or tomato sauce, likely based off Turkish moussaka, per La Cucina Italiana.

Next time you make eggplant parmesan at home, you might want to take a cue from tradition and skip the breading — not only for historical accuracy's sake, but also because it might help make the dish feel lighter and even tastier.

Avoid excess oil in your eggplant parmesan

Apart from faithfulness to the origins of eggplant parmesan, there's a pretty good reason to ditch the breadcrumbs next time you're craving the Italian classic. Eggplants naturally soak up moisture, which is why you might want to think twice about how you prepare them. Dry breadcrumbs are pretty effective sponges, too.

And therein lies the problem: When breaded eggplant hits the hot pan, both the breadcrumbs and the eggplant itself suck up the cooking oil. By the time the slices finally develop a crispy crust, they'll have become so bulked down with fat that the final dish is going to feel heavy and greasy.

Luckily, there's an easy fix, per MyRecipes. Instead of breading your eggplant slices, lightly salt them before cooking instead to allow extra water to drain out. Then, pat them dry and pan-fry them to develop a beautiful golden-brown color. Removing extra moisture from the surface allows the eggplant to cook faster — and absorb less oil — and facilitates a process called the Maillard reaction, which is a complex chain reaction that helps foods crisp up and develop those tantalizing flavors and aromas when seared. In short, skipping breadcrumbs in your eggplant parmesan recipe could make the final dish not only lighter, but tastier, too — and maybe even win the approval of an Italian nonna.