This braised chicken and eggplant recipe cooks beautifully browned chicken in a white wine and tomato sauce until tender and juicy. A scattering of crispy pan-fried eggplant and fresh herbs is stirred in toward the end of cooking. All you need is a refreshing side salad and a loaf of good, crusty bread to swipe up the juices.
Pollo alle Melanzane, or braised chicken with eggplant, is a Sicilian-ish dinner that I make in those transitional weeks between summer and fall. I love it when evenings are cooler but you’re not quite ready to lean fully into autumn. And, there is still plenty of summer produce to enjoy in the markets.
I often adopt traditional recipes from my Nonna, like my Italian Wedding Soup or Stracciatella. But I will confess I made this braised chicken and eggplant recipe up in my kitchen one late summer evening years ago. My family loved it so much that I’ve been making it ever since.
While it's a saucy braised chicken similar to my pollo alla pizzaiola, my initial inspiration was surprisingly not from Sicily. Rather, it was a chicken and eggplant dish from my local take-out Chinese restaurant!
I decided to try my hand at a similar dish but with Italian seasonings. Whether Chinese- or Sicilian-inspired, braised chicken and eggplant are a match made in heaven. They’re both mild on their own but become full of flavor when they’re brought together, particularly in an aromatic wine-spiked tomato sauce.
Crispy, tender, and filled with rich flavor, this weeknight-friendly dinner is sure to bring the perfect balance between fall’s cozy comfort cravings and summer’s lingering fresh produce.
Table of Contents
Ingredients for this Braised Chicken
You don’t need any special ingredients to make this delicious braised chicken. Chances are you have most of what you need in your pantry!
- Chicken: I use a whole chicken cut up into 10 pieces. Most well-stocked supermarkets sell cut-up chickens; otherwise, ask your butcher or the meat department to cut one up for you. You can also substitute all thighs or all breasts, if you like.
- Eggplant: Look for Italian eggplants that feel heavy for their size; they are less likely to be “cottony.”
- Aromatics and flavor-boosters: Three cloves of garlic, lightly crushed, flavor the oil in which the chicken is browned. Toward the end of cooking, a shower of fresh chopped herbs like mint, oregano, and parsley add a good dose of bright flavor and color. Salt and pepper enhance the other flavors.
- White wine: An inexpensive but drinkable Italian white works well here to give the chicken and sauce an extra layer of flavor and a nice note of acidity.
- Tomato passata: Also labeled tomato puree, this smooth tomato sauce adds depth to the braise.
- Oil: I use good quality extra virgin olive oil to brown the chicken and fry the eggplant. Any of the Mediterranean olive oils from our shop work well, with buttery-smooth Italian Nocellara being an easy match.
How to Make this Braised Chicken and Eggplant Recipe
I’ve tweaked this braised chicken recipe a bit over the years. I used to stew the eggplant in the same pan as the chicken in an effort to wash fewer dishes. I learned the eggplant’s raw juices muddied the absolutely delicious wine and tomato sauce. Now, I quickly shallow-fry the eggplant cubes and add them to the chicken towards the end of cooking. This one small extra step makes all the difference–certainly worth the extra dish.
- Prep the eggplant. Trim off the ends off of 2 medium eggplants and cut into bite-sized pieces. Pile them into a colander set in a bowl or your sink and sprinkle with salt. Let drain while you start on the chicken.
- Season the chicken. Pat the chicken dry and season each piece on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Brown the chicken. In a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil shimmers, sear the pieces of chicken, skin-side down until nicely browned, about 6 minutes per side. Work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan.
- Add the garlic. Lower the heat and add 2 lightly crushed garlic cloves to the oil, pressing down on the pieces to flavor the oil. If the pan is dry, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil. Allow the garlic to cook and soften without browning for 2 to 3 minutes, then return the chicken pieces to the pan.
- Add the wine and tomato passata. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in ½ cup of white wine. Let it bubble for a minute or two, until somewhat reduced. Then add 1 cup of tomato passata. Use tongs to turn the pieces of chicken to coat them.
- Cook the chicken in the sauce. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan partially and cook the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes, until nearly done and the liquid has reduced to sauce consistency.
- Fry the eggplant. While the chicken is simmering, pat the eggplant pieces dry. Pour ¼-inch of olive oil into a skillet and heat it over medium-high heat. When it is shimmering, drop in half the eggplant pieces. Fry for about 10 minutes, turning the pieces once or twice, until golden-brown on all sides. With a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Fry the remaining eggplant pieces and let those drain, too.
- Finish the dish. Add the fried eggplant to the chicken, stirring gently to coat the pieces with sauce. Stir in about ⅛th cup of chopped herbs. Simmer for about 5 minutes, just enough to allow the eggplant to absorb some of the sauce. Remove from the heat, sprinkle on another ⅛th cup of herbs, and serve.
Tips for Pan-Frying
Whether you’re frying eggplant or chicken pieces, follow these tips to make sure you end up with crisp-tender, beautifully browned pieces.
- Dry the eggplant well. Use paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to thoroughly dry the eggplant pieces after they have been salted and rested. Gently squeeze as you dry to remove as much excess liquid as possible. This step will help them absorb less oil during frying.
- Dry the chicken well. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the chicken pieces before you salt and pepper them. This will ensure a nicely browned, crisp skin.
- Make sure the oil is hot. Make sure the oil in the skillet or frying pan is shimmering before you add your eggplant or chicken. Hot oil will crisp the meat and veggies without overcooking them, and hot oil is less likely to be absorbed.
- Give space. Don’t try to fry all the eggplant, or all the chicken pieces, at once or you will end up steaming it. Crowding the pan lowers the temperature of the oil and causes moisture seep from the food, preventing it from browning or becoming crispy. Instead, take a few minutes more to fry in batches.
- Patience. This is key, especially when browning chicken. Start by browning the skin side first. Don’t try to turn the pieces too soon or the skin will stick to the pan and tear. Wait at least 4 or 5 minutes to get a good, proper sear. When it’s ready, you’ll be able to turn it easily, with no tearing or resistance.
What to Serve with Braised Chicken and Eggplant
This braised chicken is practically a one-dish meal. You can happily serve it on its own, but for me it needs just a little something fresh on the side.
I like to serve it with good crusty Italian bread or this garlicky rosemary focaccia, and maybe a simple salad like this lemony arugula salad with avocado.
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Meat and Poultry
Meat and Poultry
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Pollo alle Melanzane (Braised Chicken and Eggplant)
- 2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound)
- Kosher salt
- Whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces (about 3 ½ pounds total, see note)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup tomato passata or tomato purée
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh herbs (I use a combination of mint, oregano, and flat-leaf parsley)
- Salt the eggplant. Trim the ends off the eggplant, then slice crosswise into ¾-inch-thick rounds. Cut each round into ¾-inch cubes. Place them in a colander set in a bowl or your sink and toss with about 2 teaspoons salt. Set aside for about 30 minutes, while you start the chicken.
- Brown the chicken. Pat the chicken pieces dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saucepan over medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, arrange about half of the chicken pieces in the skillet, skin side-down. Sear without turning until well browned, about 6 minutes. Turn and sear the other side until equally browned, another 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a deep plate, leaving the oil and any juices in the skillet. Brown the remaining pieces in the same way and transfer them to the plate.
- Make a garlicky oil. Lower the heat to low and add the garlic to the skillet with the leftover oil and chicken juices. Cook until slightly softened, pressing down on the cloves to release their flavor, 1 to 2 minutes. (Don’t let the garlic brown or it will turn the oil bitter.) Return the chicken pieces to the pan.
- Braise the chicken. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or so, until partly evaporated. Then pour in the tomato passata, turning the pieces of chicken to coat them with the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low, or low if necessary to keep it at a gentle bubbling. Cover the pan partially and cook until almost cooked through (internal temperature should read around 155°F to 160°F), 20 to 25 minutes.
- Fry the eggplant. While the chicken is cooking, pat the eggplant pieces dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, squeezing slightly to remove any excess moisture. Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Scatter about half of the eggplant in the skillet and fry, turning the pieces now and again, until browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. With a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to the paper towel-lined plate to drain. Fry the remaining pieces of eggplant in the same way and transfer them to the paper towel-lined plate.
- Finish the chicken and serve. Add the fried eggplant to the chicken, scattering the pieces in the pan and stirring gently to coat them with sauce. Stir in half of the chopped herbs and simmer just enough to allow the eggplant to absorb some of the sauce and the chicken to cook through (165°F), about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, sprinkle on the remaining herbs, and serve.
- Most well-stocked supermarkets sell cut-up whole chickens. If yours doesn’t, ask your butcher or the meat department to cut one up for you. You can also substitute all thighs or all breasts, if you’d like.
- Take the time to fry the eggplant and chicken pieces in batches. Overcrowding lowers the heat of the pan and traps steam, which prevents everything from getting crispy and golden.
- Practice patience when you’re browning the chicken. This is key! Start by browning the skin side first. Don’t try to turn the pieces too soon or the skin will stick to the pan and tear. Wait at least 4 or 5 minutes to get a good, proper sear. When it’s ready, you’ll be able to turn it easily, with no tearing or resistance.
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