Did you know that pork and cucumbers are a traditional Chinese combination? I didn't, but I did a search for "fried cucumbers" just to see if recipes for such a thing existed and there they were. At first I was going to do a stir fry, but I gotta do something a little more interesting for the blog, so stuffed and deep fried it is. This is another recipe from Thousand Recipes Chinese Cookbook.
3 dried black mushrooms (I used cloud ears)
1/2 pound lean pork
2 slices fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sherry or rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil
3 large cucumbers
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
oil for deep frying
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon tomato or soy sauce
0. Soak the mushrooms and chill the pork in the freezer until firm.
1. Process the pork, mushrooms, ginger and scallion in a food processor until nearly smooth. A dozen pulses or so.
2. Blend in soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and oil. Set aside in refrigerator.
3. Peel cucumbers in stripes and cut crosswise in 2-inch sections.
4. Start heating oil for deep frying.
5. Scoop out seeds. [An old fashioned peeler is a good tool for this. I haven't got one, but the tubular protective case for my candy thermometer did the job nicely. Any thoughts on what to do with the leftover cucumber cores?] Stuff cucumbers with filling mixture.
6. Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Brush mixture over cucumber sections. Resist the temptation to dunk the cucumbers since you'll be using the cornstarch in the sauce and don't want raw pork in it.
7. When oil is just about smoking add cucumber sections a few at a time without crowding the pan. Deep fry a few minutes until pale golden. Drain.
8. Heat 1/2 cup water to a low simmer in a large pan or dutch oven. Carefully add cucumber sections, cover, turn down heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.
9. Remove cucumbers to serving platter. Mix soy or tomato sauce [I didn't want to open a can of tomato sauce for one Tablespoon so I used a teaspoon of tomato paste and a Tablespoon of soy sauce.] with a little of the corn starch mixture [The recipe says to use all of it, but it was far too much for the amount of liquid I had to thicken and I ended up adding another half cup of water to thin it out.] and add to liquid in pan and stir to thicken. Pour over the cucumbers and serve.
Hmm, not the most attractive presentation I've seen. It reminds me of the painting of the Elder Ones in Barlow's Guide to Extraterrestrials. Just me? The striping is more prominent on the page. Maybe it was the unsettling texture of the over-thickened sauce that put me in a Lovecraftian state of mind.
Appearances aside, it's not bad. The cucumber has the texture and, to some extent the flavor, of cooked green pepper. Soft in places but still with a little firmness to the bite. It's not easy to recognize as cucumber as the flavor isn't strong, but if someone told you, you wouldn't scoff. The pairing with the pork is pretty good but the sauce gets in the way. I shouldn't have used the tomato paste. The sauce is thinly flavored due to the extra water I had to add, but the tomato flavor does come through and I don't think it works well with the cucumber. The combined pork and cucumber juices that gathered on the plate as the pieces rested is pretty tasty and a fair bit better than the prepared sauce to my mind.
I'm curious about the pork and cucumber stir fry recipe I passed up for this. If the two were both sliced thin and tossed together instead of sitting is separate chunks, would I get that blending of flavors throughout? Maybe so. Rather lighter on the oil too. This is good, but next time I've got cucumbers to hand I'm making that instead.