Monday, 20 August 2012

Why so Bitter?

Fianco di Manzo con Cetriolo Amaro Thailandese
Flank of Beef with Bitter Thai Cucumber

They look rather harmless really... a little alien maybe, granted, but green and harmless and mild. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth! These bitter, green, Thai cucumbers are certainly not for the faint of heart! Of course I was warned when I bought it, that this was the "real deal" of bitterness and an acquired taste- but being Sicilian and liking most things bitter, I thought, "what do I have to lose?"

I will tell you what YOU might end up losing, should you ever consider trying this... and that is a number of taste buds! The bitterness is pretty extreme! The minute that I cut into it I already knew this was a whole different animal than our cucumbers are- with it's red seeds and it's white, spongey insides... and as it turned out- the animal was quite a beast!

I scooped out the seeds and the white pith and of course, cut off a slice so that I could taste it and see what all the fuss was about... and it was pretty extreme! So I salted the cucumber for around 30 minutes to reduce the bitterness, much in the same way that one would an aubergine.

Whilst the cucumber was doing its thing, I stirred together a marinade of sesame oil, garlic paste, grated ginger, grated lime and orange zest, soy sauce and a little honey. I had a nice piece of flank steak, but decided that the whole of it would be too much for one meal, and so I cut off about a 2" strip from it, popped it into a ziploc bag and let it soak up those good  flavors...

Back to the cucumber! I gave it a rinse to remove the salt and then sprinkled it with sugar, because at this point, I realized that my tongue was still a little numb from the quick taste I took earlier! I let it soak in the sugar for a further 30 mins or so whilst the meat marinated... and then after that, I grabbed 2 frying pans and got ready to get this show on the road!

I used sesame oil for both things and started the cucumber frying as soon as the pan was hot enough, but patted the meat dry with a little kitchen towel first as I wanted to get a nice pepper crust going on the outside. I ground up a mixture of coriander seeds, black pepper, chili, a clove, a little star anis, some sea salt and a little sugar. 

As soon as the pan was hot, I dipped the meat into pepper-mix and then placed it into the hot sesame oil and let it sit for around 2 minutes before flipping it over and doing the same to the other side.

The cucumbers, I tossed and stir-fried, adding soy sauce and honey and a generous sprinkle of chili, as well as a few fresh coriander leaves. I added a little orange juice and a drizzle of honey and turned off the heat... I took it out of the pan, set it onto a sheet of aluminum foil and added the juices. I then wrapped it up and placed it into a warm oven whilst I finished off the cucumber.

When the cucumber had become translucent, it was ready to serve... it was time for a little "here goes nothing!" And all kidding aside, it WAS edible, but it WAS a challenge, I have to admit!

Once the beef had rested nicely, I took it out of the foil and sliced it finely across the grain- and as you can see, if you have a good, sharp, knife that is easily doable! So that one single strip of flank turned into a more than adequate meal when presented in fine slices, with the remaining juices to be added! And yes, the meat was delicious! Just take my advice and skip the veg in this case! ;-)


  1. Ha! I might just try that bitter cucumber one of these days--for the experience. I am actually rather partial to Chinese bitter melon, which is also, as you say, an acquired taste. But this one might give me a run for my money!

  2. Ha? Ha! Frank- please don't do it... you're a nice guy and I like you- I wouldn't wish this stuff on an enemy! If a Sicilian can't handle it- that should be enough warning for you! ;-) On the other hand- if you never try- you'll never know I suppose, which is why I went ahead and did it. I think maybe if I were to try it again, I might make it with scrambled egg... I have seen a number of versions of that recipe online. I reckon that what initially sounds weird, may well work better, as the egg will bring some mildness and a mellow contrast into the whole affair. But still- for the sake of us staying friends- keep away! Best wishes- Francesco