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Food + Cooking

Cooking Cucumbers

Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it: This unorthodox preparation gives cucumbers a great texture and a wonderfully intense flavor.

Here’s the question you should be asking yourself: Are cucumbers more like oysters or mussels?

Allow me to explain: It’s often been observed that mussels are good raw but transcendent cooked, and oysters are just the opposite. It should be obvious then—that is, if you’ve even thought about cooked cucumber, beyond the pickle ad that accuses its competitors of selling mushy cooked pickles—that a cucumber is like an oyster.

Now, you cynical lot may be wondering, who would describe a cucumber as “transcendent” under any circumstances? But cooked cucumber is really good. To prove this, heat some peanut oil in a skillet or wok. Seed and slice a cucumber (peeled, if it’s not the English variety), and add it to the pan. Cook until it begins to brown, about two minutes, stirring frequently. Add minced garlic and soy sauce. Turn out into a bowl and stir in sesame oil. The result has the slippery crispness of cellophane noodles rather than the all-out crunch of a raw cuke. And like any cooked vegetable, it has intensified flavor—something a cucumber needs, let’s face it.

I’ve only ever encountered cooked cucumber in Asian food. There’s a Korean cooked cucumber salad, and shredded cucumber, briefly stir-fried, is often found in the noodle dish chap chae. Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuanese cookbook Land of Plenty offers Spicy Cucumber Salad, in which the cucumber is briefly stir-fried, then served at room temperature. So I think there’s a real opportunity here for a chef with an independent streak to make us reevaluate our cucurbitaceous prejudices.

Powdered foie gras? Old hat. Cooked cucumber? That’s truly avant-garde.