One of our test cooks once compared dressing smooth-cut cucumbers to spilling water on a laminate floor. Practically nothing is absorbed and the liquid slides right off.
Smashed cucumbers, on the other hand, act like a shag carpet. They suck up almost every drop of flavorful dressing.
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You’ve probably seen lots of recipes where the cucumbers are sliced. Those recipes will still be delicious. But smashing the cucumbers, as they do in the Sichuan version, breaks up their internal structure in a helpfully haphazard way. This allows the cucumbers to release water faster and results in a better-tasting salad.
Here’s why it makes such a difference.
- Smashing exposes more surface area than chopping or slicing. When smashed and chopped cucumbers were treated with equal amounts of salt, the smashed ones shed water four times faster than sliced cucumbers.
- The irregular shapes hold on to the dressing better than smooth surfaces. Smashing gives you varied textures with desirable nooks and crannies. Larger pieces will be crunchy. Mushed bits of the gel-like cucumber insides will meld with the dressing (in pai huang gua, that means soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic) and thicken for better coating and more pickle-like flavor.
It's simple, speedy, and effective. The next time you make a cucumber salad, here’s how we recommend going about the smashing step.
- Trim and discard the ends from the cucumbers. Cut the cucumbers crosswise into thirds.
- To keep things neat, place the pieces in a zipper-lock bag and seal.
- Firmly but gently, give them a good thwack with a small skillet or rolling pin. Do this until the cucumbers are flattened and split into several spears.
- Tear spears into smaller, roughly 1- to 1½-inch chunks.