This Air Fryer Eggplant Parmesan has a superior crunch exterior, and soft and tender on the inside. This is seriously tasty and super fast – it comes together in 30 minutes flat, from start to finish - So, so delicious!
I wanted an air fryer eggplant parmesan, where the crispy crunchy breading soaks up the sweet tomato sauce and then is draped under gooey cheese. It's like extra-crispy bite sized meatless pizza!
I tried replacing the chicken in my chicken parmesan recipe with eggplant slices and it was life changing! The texture and taste was unbelievably good without the hassle of deep frying.
When done right, eggplant can be meaty and substantial, has an amazing ability to compliment and absorb other flavors like in eggplant stir fry.
What's Eggplant Parmesan? Traditional Sicilian style involves unbreaded slices deep fried in olive oil, and then layered with tomatoes and mozzarella. Unlike this parmigiana di Melanzane, American versions include meaty slabs of thick cut slices, breaded, fried and then layered with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
It is one of those amazing vegetarian dishes that’s so good and comforting for everyone. It oozes with melted mozzarella on top with bright tomato sauce with layers of soft cooked vegetable.
When choosing an eggplant, look for a firm, unblemished, smooth skinned, and with a hefty weight. It should be shiny, not soft, and have a uniform dark purple. I like to stay away from excessively large ones, because they become less flavorful and less dense.
Although they are abundance in supply at the end of summer, you can find them pretty much year round.
You often see recipes that calls for salt sprinkled on the raw slices to draw the moisture out. This tenderizes the flesh, draws out the moisture and removes any bitterness. However the reality is that present day vegetables have been altered to have no bitterness in them. Also, you run the risk of making the dish too salty.
Why this recipe works?
Cooking eggplant can be tricky. They instantly absorb any and all oil, or turn into a mush when cooked too much. That's because the cells of the slices are held together with plenty of air in between, like a sponge.
Panko and parmesan bread crumb coating serves as an insulator, preventing the slices from overcooking and also, sealing in the excess moisture, and traps the air. It also increases the overall surface area, thus resulting in more crunch!
Scroll down to the recipe card below for full information on ingredients and amounts.
- Eggplant - Use a globe eggplant which has a mild flavor, tender texture and contains very few seeds. It's excellent for dishes like this air fryer eggplant parmesan, where substantial wide slices are desired.
- Eggs - They are necessary to make the crumbs stay put.
- Flour - It helps to form a thin layer of sticky coating, which lets the panko latch on to.
- Seasoning - Italian seasoning, black pepper, red pepper flakes and salt.
- Panko breadcrumbs - Japanese style panko breadcrumbs are wide craggy flakes, provides more surface area than regular breadcrumbs, adding major crunch, like in air fryer breaded shrimp.
- Cheese - Shredded mozzarella and finely grated parmesan cheese for the classic flavors.
- Sauce - I opted to use my favorite Prego, tomato, basil and garlic for this dish. It's rich , thick and deep flavor works nicely on the crunchy slices.
How to make?
You can find full printable recipe below, but here is a quick overview of the procedure along with step-by-step photos.
1. Slice - Wash, dry the eggplant and cut into ½ inch thick slices.
Tip: Make sure that the slices are of even thickness, so they all can cook evenly.
2 & 3. Add egg, all purpose flour and all seasonings into a shallow bowl and whisk to form a thin batter. Working with one eggplant at a time, dip each slice in the batter coating well on both sides.
4. Stir panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in another shallow bowl or plate. Dredge each slice in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing well to adhere.
Tip: I mix in a good quality parmesan cheese into the breading. It takes on a sweet nutty flavor as it cooks, much better than panko alone.
5. Air fry in a preheated oven at 380 degrees, placing in a single layer, without overlapping. Spray a coating a non-stick cooking spray. Cook for 5 minutes, open air fryer basket, flip the slices over, spray the tops again, and cook for remaining 7 minutes.
6. Top cooked sliced with tomato sauce and cheese. Cook for an addional 2 minutes to melt cheese.
How to serve?
This is great as a meal all on it’s own as a meatless main course with a crusty bread and side salad. It is also delicious with any plain pasts dishes like instant pot pesto pasta or make into a sandwich.
How to store leftovers?
- In Refrigerator - Keep them in a covered container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat - Reheat at 380 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes or until warmed through.
It is great make ahead dish that can prepped and ready to go in your freezer. The air fryer is amazing in crisping up all things breaded without making them soggy like a microwave.
Freeze without sauce/cheese - Freeze cooked slices without any sauce or cheese (this is homemade eggplant cutlets), in a zip lock bag for up to a month. Reheat in the air fryer from frozen at 360 degrees, until heated through and crisp. Top with sauce and cheese and cook until cheese melts.
Freeze with sauce/cheese - Freeze slices between pieces of parchment paper in a covered container for up to 1 month. Cook frozen slices in a pre heated 350 degree fryer for 3 to 5 minutes or until hot.
- Cheese - Use shredded or sliced fresh mozzarella.
- Parmesan - Use finely shredded cheese. If using pre shredded parmesan, then grind ⅓ cup in a mini food processor until finely ground.
- Make ½-inch thick slices - Make sure that the slices are of even thickness and not any thicker, which might not cook tender.
- Make it gluten free - Use gluten free panko and gluten free flour.
Not necessary! The skin cooks tender, enhances the flavor, is totally edible, and high in antioxidants. Most importantly, it saves you an additional step.
Eggplant slices are like a sponge with lot of air in between the cells, which likes to absorb any oil around them. Salting, resting and pressing out the excess moisture eventually removes excess air.
However, I find that additional step unnecessary in the air fryer eggplant parmesan recipe, because the crisp breaded coating seals in the excess air and moisture, and also there's no layering here, thus resulting in a supremely tender and succulent meaty texture.
Eggplants can absorb a significant amount of oil during cooking, especially when frying or sautéing. So it is not necessary in this breaded air fryer eggplant parmesan recipe.
More air fryer vegetables
Air Fryer Eggplant Parmesan
- 1 large Eggplant
- 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup finely grated parmesan cheese refer notes
- 1 cup marinara sauce plus more for serving
- 1 to 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish
- Wash eggplant and dry thoroughly. Slice into ½-inch rounds.Tip: Make sure that the slices are of even thickness, so they all can cook evenly.
- Add all batter ingredients into a shallow bowl, whisk until smooth and well combined.
- Mix panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in another bowl.Tip: I mix in a good quality parmesan cheese into the breading. It takes on a sweet nutty flavor as it cooks, much better than panko alone.
- Working with one slice at a time, place each slice in the wet batter, turning over couple of times to make sure that it is coated thoroughly. Lift with hands or tongs, allowing excess batter to drip off and then place over the bread crumbs.
- Pack bread crumbs on both sides of the slice (pressing with fingers to adhere).
- Place on a plate and repeat process with remaining eggplant slices.
- Pre heat air fryer to 380°F for 12 minutes. When ready, place prepared slices in a single layer (cook in batches), spray the top with non stick cooking spray.
- Cook for 5 minutes, open air fryer basket, flip the slices over, spray the tops again with non stick cooking spray and cook for remaining 7 minutes.
- Open basket, spread marinara sauce on top followed by shredded mozzarella, Cook at 380°F for 2 to 3 minutes, until cheese melts.4
- Garnish with fresh basil more marinara sauce if desired.
Nutritional information, based on third-party calculations, should be seen as estimates, not guarantees, as various factors like product types, brands, processing methods, and more can alter the nutritional content in recipes.
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