by Chef Jae Bae, JFE Executive Chef, R & D
Faster, Safer and Fresher
As beautiful as sushi is, imagine what it would be like without texture. The different dimensions that make great food—appearance, aroma, texture and taste—are abundant in sushi. And the cucumber you prepare every day gives your guests, whether a sushi connoisseur or beginner, a freshness and crunch that can’t be duplicated by other ready-to-eat food.
In this edition I’ll describe the best way to peel and slice your cucumbers (yes, that task you’ve done a million times but probably haven’t been doing the best way). I’ll also share a lesser known key to taste and texture. I hope you’ll open your mind to trying a few new techniques. They’ll will still allow for quick preparation but will improve the quality of your sushi.
To start preparing your cucumber, don’t cut the ends off first. You may be doing this so that, once you’re finished, peeling your cucumber is ready to julienne. However it’s safer and faster to leave the ends on for peeling—safer for your hands to hold the cucumber and easier for your peeler to get a “purchase” or “bite” on it. This makes it safer to attack the peeling process quickly.
A word about safety: I’m actually more apprehensive when new chefs are peeling or slicing with the mandolin–even myself–than when they’re using a sushi knife. So, if your local health regulations allow, please use cloth gloves for slicing, in particular, to prevent an ugly accident.
You may also be cutting your cucumber in half before you slice it. You might be doing this because you learned it in traditional restaurants, where they make more of the wider but shorter futomaki rolls than we do, like our Rock and Roll. Or you may be cutting them in half because you learned from someone with a restaurant background, and you never questioned its use for our kiosks. (These articles are a great place, by the way, for you to get rid of bad habits or unproductive methods in your kiosk.) With the standard size of most of our maki rolls—equal to a length of kani–if you’re cutting the cucumber in half before slicing it, you’re just making twice as much work for yourself.
For your slicing, consider removing the adjustment screw on the underside of the mandolin. When the mandolin opening is relaxed in its deepest setting, it’s ready to go at the exact dimension we want our slices to be.
Next, stop slicing when you see the first sign of seeds. If it’s your style to allow a handful of slices with seeds into your cucumber batch because, for example, they’re still edible, it’s not appropriate for the clean shapes and colors that set our sushi apart from our competitors.
Finally, a really underused technique in our sushi bars that I find essential is rinsing your sliced cucumbers. You’ve noticed, of course, how cucumbers get slimy and soft. It’s usually because you haven’t rinsed them.
If you’re not rinsing yours, they’re probably lasting one day. But thoroughly rinsing and draining your slices, while adding a few minutes of prep time, will prolong your cucumber life for as many as two extra days.
You see, the moment you slice them your cucumbers you’re breaking down their cell walls. And they’re also already extruding their viscous liquid that in English slang we call slime. But as the slime stays on your slices for a day or two in the refrigeration, it’s trapping moisture, which means you’re not getting the crispest slices possible.
To rinse your cucumbers, you’ll need a standard plastic deep hotel pan and a matching slotted strainer that normally rests inside but, for our purposes, will rest on top of the sliced cucumbers as a lid.
1.) After filling the tub or pan with sliced cucumbers, you’re going to leave the container to rinse under running water, but first fill the entire container once (with cukes already in it) and empty it
2.) Leave the container under running water at least 20 minutes
3.) Then drain the container by securing the lid in at least two places with several arm lengths of plastic wrap fashioned into a rope of sorts; you can make tight knots since you’ll just cut the “rope” later with scissors or a knife (safely!)
4.) With the slotted lid tightly affixed, rest the container on its end (not on its side) at the edge of your sink; now allow gravity to do the rest, letting your cucumbers drip-drain for at least 20 minutes
Colorful sushi may delight your customers at first glance, but without texture, sushi would cease to have the balance of characteristics that distinguishes fine cuisine. By taking a fresh look at how you prepare your cucumbers—efficiently, safely and with fresh, crisp results—you’ll put your sushi bar a cut above the competitors. You’ll also provide your customers with one more distinction that will keep them coming back to you.
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