A Vietnamese cucumber salad that looks elegant and tastes really good. For some reason I’ve found that the dressing tastes better after it’s had a chance to set a spell, so if you have the time you should make it a day ahead or at least a couple of hours ahead but don’t add it to the cucs till you are ready to serve.
One of the ingredients called for is “fish sauce.” There are dozens of fish sauce makers and its pedigree goes back to the Romans who called it “liquamen” and put it on everything.
Generally speaking, it’s the fermented essence of anchovy or other small fish like sardines and you can use it in a pinch for non-Asian recipes calling for anchovies. Everyone has their favorite – mine is Red Boat. When I started looking into different fish sauces I came across endorsements for other brands along the lines of, “smells like gym socks but once it’s in the finished sauce it tastes fine,” or “smells like Dad’s pits after he’s mowed the lawn but it’s ok in the final product.” Really? Gym socks and armpits? For your first course? Don’t think so… Look, we all know that these types of things may taste too intense if you’re sampling them out of the bottle but they should still taste good. I took a chance on Red Boat and when I got it home I poured some out into the palm of my hand and yessiree Bob, it tasted delicious straight up.
The company was started by an American, Cuong Pham, a former tech executive, and it has only two ingredients, black anchovies and salt. This is fermented for a year and then strained, bottled, and delivered for your dining pleasure. I even cheated and used it in my Ragu Bolognese when I ran out of anchovies, and it worked well. And how corporate of Mr. Pham to have given us a multitasking version of fish sauce. You can feel that vibe (but in a good way)!
And for the prep:
Couldn’t be easier. Just slice the cucumber lengthwise, scoop the seeds and toss with the dressing.
Finally, if you’re addicted to take out spring rolls this doubles as a first rate dipping sauce. You can can make some up and keep a bottle in the fridge in case they forget to pack it when you pick up your food.
- 2 cucumbers
- small red onion or shallot, sliced very thin
- 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2½ teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- Optional cilantro or mint to taste
- Optional grated ginger to taste.
- Peel and slice the cucumbers lengthwise. Run a spoon down the center to remove seeds.
- Slice cucumbers about ⅓ of an inch thick.
- Slice onion very thin and add to cucumbers.
- Whisk remaining ingredients in a bowl and dress just before serving.