Cook school confidential: cooking with cucumbers

Cook school confidential: cooking with cucumbers

by Great British Chefs 8 July 2016

We teamed up with chef Dominic Chapman to discover how cucumbers can be used in more than just salads or sandwiches, and why searing or warming through the vegetable creates such interesting and varied textures and flavours.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Cucumber sandwiches, cucumber salad, pickled cucumbers – dishes which all have their place in the British food scene, but perhaps not the most exciting foods in the world. It’s for this reason that the cucumber has gained a bit of a bad reputation for being something you chop up and add to lunches for added crunch, and not much else.

However, as we learnt at the cook school we hosted at Le Cordon Bleu with Dominic Chapman, head chef at The Beehive in Maidenhead, cucumbers are a lot more versatile than you might think. He showed a class full of journalists and bloggers how they’re used in fine dining, and some innovative ways to cook them without turning the flesh brown.

‘We’re preparing a chilled fresh cucumber soup, finished with a little bit of lovage, parsley and some sherry vinegar,’ says Dominic. ‘It’s very simple and a lovely vibrant green. I wouldn’t call it gazpacho as that’s something completely different, even though it’s also a chilled soup.’

The soup was incredibly simple but full of flavour, and ideal for warm weather or eating al fresco. However, Dominic’s main course took turbot, one of the most luxurious fish available, and served it with a warm cucumber sauce for a true taste of fine dining. ‘The main course is a lovely piece of turbot served with a cucumber buerre blanc,’ he explains. ‘Turbot is a cracking fish, particularly at this time of year, but you can also use lemon sole. I wouldn’t pair the sauce with sea bass or cod, as they don’t have the right texture.

‘While the soup showcases fresh cucumber, this dish shows how it can be served warm,’ he continues. ‘You don’t want to fully cook the vegetable else it’ll go brown – just lightly warming it so it gently softens is all you need, and it’s so simple.’

Overcooking the cucumber will turn it brown – just gently warming through will keep it vibrant and slightly soften the texture
Turbot and cucumbers
The fresh green taste contrasted perfectly with the rich butter sauce and complemented the turbot beautifully

This is the key to cooking with cucumbers – lightly warming them through rather than cooking the vegetable for long periods of time over a high heat means it will retain a crunchy texture. ‘Cucumbers are great for cooking with – just cut them into cubes or batons then throw them into a stir-fry or serve with pulses like lentils,’ says Dominic. ‘They add crunch, flavour and colour. You can even caramelise cucumber; cut it into a square and then just stick it onto a hot grill or pan. It gets this wonderful seared edge that adds plenty of texture. They’re not just for salads.’