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Cucumbers are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, and one of my personal favorites. Peeled, cut, and served with a little salt, they are simultaneously savory, and refreshing. They're fantastic marinated overnight in a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili flakes; the salt in the soy sauce draws out some of their liquid, so they get a super-concentrated flavor. As a stir-fry ingredient, they are one of the most underutilized.
Oddly enough, cucumbers are one of the two foods my wife can't stand, so chicken stir-fried with cucumbers, fermented bean paste, and Sichuan peppercorns is one of my quick, easy, and delicious go-to staples when she's out on girl's night.
While you can certainly simply slice the cukes whole onto salads, peeling and seeding them helps you make the most of their flavor and texture. This video will show you how.
Shopping and Storage
In the supermarket, you're usually faced with three choices of cucumbers:
- American Cucumbers are dense fleshed and flavorful. They have thicker skins than most other cucumbers that I would recommend removing before eating. In any case, definitely give them a good scrub under cool running water to remove some of the food-grade wax that they usually come coated in. They have lots of watery seeds that should be scraped out before use.
- English Cucumbers usually come individually shrink-wrapped, which means that there's no need to scrub them before eating (they are not waxed). The skins are thinner than that of an American cucumber, so can be consumed no problem. Although they are usually relatively seedless, they are also much more watery than their American counterparts. They are more convenient to prepare, but less flavorful.
- Kirby Cucumbers are like small versions of American cucumbers. Thick-skinned and relatively seedless, they have the strongest flavor of all, and a texture that can sometimes border on tough. These cucumbers are best prepared pickled.
Whole fresh cucumbers can be stored in the vegetable crisper drawer for at least a week and often much longer before they start to rot. Cut cucumber pieces should be stored wrapped in a moist paper towel inside an airtight plastic bag or container to prevent moisture loss. Eat cut cucumbers within 3 days of cutting.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.