Smashed & Spicy Cucumber Salad

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 1
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The best thing about this salad is that you take a rolling pin and smash the cucumbers to smithereens, and I’m only exaggerating a little bit. You arrange the cucumbers on a chopping board and give them a good whack to split them, then, using your hands, tear the cucumbers into pieces, discarding any seeds that fall out. Ripping rather than cutting the cucumbers allows the bold, spicy dressing to penetrate into the craggy pieces. This is fast, fun, hands on cooking.

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The smashed cucumber salad has jetted from it’s origin in China’s Sichuan province via Manhattan restaurants and landed firmly on the menu in London, infiltrating the internet on route. It seems to have overtaken a good old green side salad and I’ve eaten it 4 times in restaurants over as many months. The salad is simple but fully flavoured. Crisp, cool cucumbers take on a punchy dressing of vinegar, chilli, ginger, garlic, honey and soy sauce and the most delicious version I’ve eaten was at the Chinese Laundry Room in Islington. The proprietor said she uses a Taiwanese family recipe passed down from her Aunt that includes dried as well as fresh chillis, along with the exquisite Chinese black vinegar that is usual in these salads. It’s an aged vinegar, similar to but sharper and less sweet than balsamic, which gives a deep, fermented flavour to sauces and dressings. Black vinegar is not yet widely available in UK supermarkets so, as a substitute, I’ve used a combination of brown rice vinegar and Sherry vinegar, which brings about a similarly earthy flavour. This Gold Plum Chinese black vinegar is a new discovery for me, and recently I’ve used it as a condiment as well as an ingredient, an idea I borrowed from My Neighbour’s the Dumplings where they supply it as a dipping sauce for dim sum.

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I’ve adapted my recipe from Melissa Clark’s in her new book Dinner and given what I find to be ideal quantities of the dressing ingredients. To echo the salad I ate at the Chinese Laundry Room I’ve used both fresh red chillis and dried Ancho chillis, which are very mild and have a sweeter, smoky, almost cocoa like flavour. You can select your own heat level by choosing from the numerous chillis available to you, but I encourage you to use a milder dried component like ancho chillis, which you can actually chew on without getting a sweat on.

As far as UK cucumbers go, I used a thicker skinned variety and partially peeled them for both looks and texture. If you use thin skinned cucumbers there is no need to peel them, other than to make it look prettier. This salad is great with anything, particularly oily fish like salmon, trout or arctic char.

What’s for Sippies?

Whether you eat this salad with fish, meat, eggs or tofu, the spicy chilli and strong vinegar will be the dominant flavours. A cold beer suits this salad best, and I’m loving the Beavertown Brewery Neck Oil Session IPA at the moment. It’s light and crisp but has more substance than a larger. Excellent with spicy food.

Recipe

Adapted from Melissa Clark and inspired by Chinese Laundry Room

Ingredients

Cucumbers – about 500g (1lb)
Brown rice vinegar (or white rice vinegar) – 5 teaspoons
Sherry vinegar – 1 tablespoon
Toasted sesame oil – 1 teaspoon
Honey – 1 teaspoon (or half a teaspoon brown sugar if you’d like to veganise this recipe)
Soy sauce – 1 teaspoon
Fresh ginger – 20g once peeled (about a thumb sized piece)
1 Red chilli
1 whole, dried Ancho chilli (or other very mild dried chilli of your choice)
Garlic – 1 clove finely minced
 

Method

 
1. Soak the dried chilli in hot water to soften it. It only takes 5 minutes.
Partially peel the cucumbers to create a stripey look. Arrange them on a chopping board and smash them several times using a rolling pin, mallet or the bottom of a saucepan. Using your hands, rip the cucumber up into 1 inch pieces.
2. In a small bowl or jug, mix together – vinegars, sesame oil, honey or sugar, soy sauce and garlic. Finely mince the ginger using a microplane or the finest side of your box grater. Gather the pulp in your hands and squeeze out the juice into the bowl with the rest of the dressing ingredients. Discard the pulp.
3. Drain the dried chilli and finely chop it with the fresh chilli. I use one tablespoon of this chilli mix, but use more or less to your taste. Add it to the dressing.
4. Put the smashed cucumbers into a large bowl, pour the dressing on top and mix well.

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