Monday, December 7, 2009

Eggplant Josephine

Eggplant Josephine, a popular dish at the old White Pillars restaurant, made from slices of eggplant, dredged in breadcrumbs and fried, topped with crabmeat, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked.
Eggplant Josephine, a popular dish at the old White Pillars restaurant, made from slices of eggplant, dredged in breadcrumbs and fried, topped with crabmeat, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked.

Eggplant Josephine

Eggplant Josephine, sort of a Deep South coastal seafood take on Eggplant Parmesan, was a pretty famous dish when I was growing up. It was a signature dish at the White Pillars, a very popular local restaurant owned by the Mladinich family of Biloxi. Housed in an old 1919 white mansion located at the foot of Rodenburg Avenue right on the beach at Highway 90, owned originally by Dr. and Mrs. H. M. Folkes, and then called Gunston Hall, the restaurant was a beautiful and elegant structure.

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I don't remember why or when it was that White Pillars closed, though I do want to say that it must've been somewhere in the late 70s. The boarded up building, still standing at the time of Hurricane Katrina, was extensively damaged by that storm, but there was some talk about a renaissance shortly thereafter and many years later the process began. I am happy to say that The White Pillars has finally reopened!

One of the signature dishes at The White Pillars was called Eggplant Josephine - a layered mixture of eggplant, lump crab, marinara sauce, and cheese, topped with Hollandaise sauce - and while it has been at least 30 years since that dish was last served at The White Pillars, just the mention of it invokes fond memories of special occasion dinners at The White Pillars Restaurant for many people. They only recently got a version of Eggplant Josephine back on the menu, since they now focus on locally sourced, fresh ingredients.

I don't know how it came to be named Eggplant Josephine, though I am certain there must be a story there somewhere, but the dish is a little bit of a glamorized twist on classic Eggplant Parmesan in my opinion. Like it, there is a layer of eggplant that has been dredged in a coating and fried, but that eggplant is then topped with a layer of fresh, lump crabmeat, then marinara sauce, and finally topped with cheese.

On September 20, 1989, after many requests, the Sun Herald published a recipe called Eggplant Josephine, shown below.

The recipe was submitted to them by Dr. Jim Culveyhouse of Gulfport, who when asked how he obtained the sought-after recipe, replied "don't ask." This is the Eggplant Josephine recipe that is floating around the internet to this day. This recipe is also featured in the cookbook, Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, being credited to the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper in 2004. I have no idea if either recipe is anything close to being authentic to the original, but I did use that as a guideline for my version, which I call 'Eggplant Josephine, My Way.'

The hardest part of this recipe is picking through the fresh crabmeat to find those stray pieces of shell and cartilage. One tip to help remedy that, is to spread the crabmeat out on a baking sheet, and run it in a 200 degree oven for about 2 or 3 minutes. The cartilage with turn from clear to opaque and will be easier to spot and pull out.

Since I was feeling a bit under the weather when I made this and this was my first time ever making this dish, I didn't bother with cooking either the pasta or the hollandaise sauce and just ate mine plain this time. By the way, the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sauterne white wine, but since I don't cook with alcohol much, I substituted chicken broth.

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Recipe: Eggplant Josephine

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 15 min |Cook time: 20 min | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 pound lump crabmeat
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (Italian or panko)
  • Bacon fat or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sauterne white wine (or may substitute chicken broth)
  • 3-1/2 cups marinara sauce, homemade or commercial
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Cajun or Creole seasoning, (like Slap Ya Mama or Zatarains), to taste
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Cooked spaghetti noodles, optional
  • Hollandaise sauce, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter or spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with non-stick spray and set aside. Pick through the crabmeat well to extract any small pieces of cartilage and/or shell.

Peel the eggplant and slice into about 8 slices. Heat bacon fat or oil in skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the eggplant in the flour, then the egg and last, breadcrumbs; brown both sides of the eggplant in the hot bacon fat. Set aside on a rack to drain.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the butter and add the wine or chicken broth. Add the crabmeat and gently toss, letting low simmer for about 5 minutes.

Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, slightly overlapping pieces. Divide the crabmeat evenly on each slice of eggplant, sprinkle with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning. Carefully pour the remaining sauce over the top of the crabmeat and sprinkle top with shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese.

Cover and bake at 450 degrees F for about 20 minutes; uncover, add Parmesan and bake another 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Can also run under the broiler to brown the top if desired. Let sit for about 5 minutes before serving, while you make the hollandaise sauce. Eat as is, or place each serving over a bed of spaghetti noodles, and spoon hollandaise over the top of each serving, if using.

Cook's Notes: Any pasta sauce can be used here, homemade or commercial. To easily pick out any shell, spread crab on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in a 200 degree oven for 3 minutes. The shell will be visible and easy to pick out. The eggplant may also be baked. Dredge pieces as above and place on a greased rack over an aluminum foil covered baking sheet. Proceed with the recipe as above.

For the air fryer, prepare eggplant as above, spraying both sides generously with oil. I use the EVO sprayer with excellent results. Preheat air fryer to 390 degrees F, 3 minutes. Fry on racks, about 10 minutes, turning and repositioning racks halfway for an oven style fryer, or in batches if using a basket style fryer. All brands of air fryers vary in wattage and how they cook. Keep an eye on the food when following a new recipe and adjust as needed for your fryer.

Eggplant Parmigiana: Omit the the crabmeat, wine and butter, or use butter with the other fat for frying. Reduce the mozzarella cheese to 1-1/2 cups and add 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Layer and bake as above, or for a more classic Italian version, increase ingredients to make four layers.


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