Peak season for eggplants: mid-summer to early fall.
There is some controversy around whether there are male and female eggplants and whether the females have more seeds and are therefore more bitter. One camp says that biologically, eggplants are considered fruits which therefore are pollinated and aren’t really “male” and “female”. Another camp directs the shopper to look on the bulbous end of the eggplant for a dimple – this is where the flower was attached. There are claims that eggplants having a round dimple may have more seeds and be less meaty, while the fruit bearing a dash-like dimple will likely have less seeds and be less bitter.
Eggplants should be smooth skinned and heavy for their size.
The skin should slightly dent when pressed, but the dent mark soon disappears.
Eggplants are in the nightshade family and therefore don’t do well in the refrigerator. Both flavor and texture will be negatively affected.
Eggplants have a short shelf life and should be used within 2 – 3 days of purchase. The older the eggplant is, the more seeds it will have and the more bitter it will be.
At its peak, eggplants should have pale flesh and few visible seeds. Past their prime, the flesh darkens and is more bitter.
Preventing bitterness: slice the eggplant into the thickness you plan to use in your preparation and salt them. Place in a colander for draining the liquid that will be given off by the eggplant slices. If the eggplant seems particularly juicy, weight the eggplant with a plate topped by something heavy to press down on the eggplant.
To keep the eggplant as crispy as possible when cooking: Salt the eggplant (as described above) and soak the slices in ice water. This is a particularly outstanding method if you plan to fry the slices as the water will prevent the eggplant from absorbing much oil. To see photos of this, go to my Eggplant Parmigiano recipe. According to Harold McGee, salting eggplant also helps prevent absorption of excess oil during cooking.
If the skin is very tough, it can be peeled before cooking.
Eggplant should never be undercooked.
Eggplant is very versatile and can be roasted, grilled, fried / sautéed.