[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
Cucumbers are an underrated and underutilized ingredient in the stir-fry world. The blazing heat of wok cooking renders them tender, fruity, and juicy, without turning them to mush. Here, we give cucumber an extra layer of flavor with the help of a kitchen blowtorch, which imparts smoky wok hei, an integral component to Chinese stir-fry cooking. This recipe is a great introduction to the benefits of our torch hei hack.
The succulent, flame-licked cucumbers are paired with meaty king trumpet mushrooms, and funky, salty, and spicy fermented bean curd for a vegetarian stir-fry that is simple, but far from basic.
Why It Works
- The high-output flame of a kitchen blowtorch imparts the distinctive smoky aroma and flavor of classic wok hei that is otherwise very difficult to achieve on a Western stovetop.
- Salting and draining the cucumbers before cooking allows them to sear in a hot wok rather than steaming them to mush.
- Stir-frying the mushrooms over high heat gives them a hard sear, then simmering them in reserved cucumber juices cooks them through and imparts subtle vegetal sweetness.
- 2 English cucumbers (1 pound; 450g)
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil
- 10 ounces (280g) king trumpet mushrooms, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
- 1 garlic clove (5g), minced
- 1 teaspoon (6g) fermented bean curd in sesame oil (see note)
- White pepper
- 1 teaspoon (2g) toasted sesame seeds
Using a sharp knife, halve cucumbers lengthwise, and scrape out seeds using a spoon; reserve seeds in a small bowl. Halve cucumber pieces lengthwise, and then cut cross-wise into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer cucumbers to a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon (4g) salt, and stir until well coated. Let sit until cucumbers release liquid, about 15 minutes. Drain cucumbers, reserving liquid. Strain accumulated liquid in the small bowl with seeds through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl with reserved liquid from the cucumbers; discard seeds.
In a wok or large carbon steel skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over high heat until smoking. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until browned on most sides, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add reserved cucumber liquid, cover, and cook until mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes. Uncover, return heat to high, and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute longer.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil and stir in cucumbers. Cook, stirring frequently, until cucumbers begin to brown, about 1 minute. Using blowtorch, hold flame 2 to 3 inches above skillet while stirring constantly, until oil combusts and imparts smoky aroma, about 30 seconds. Stir in garlic and fermented bean curd and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer stir fry to serving platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
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