Although many varieties are available all year round, cucumbers are at their sweetest and crunchiest during the summer months. Whether you’re pickling them or tossing them into fresh salads, here’s how to choose, store and prep cucumbers so they taste their best. Try our tips, then learn some new ways to use cucumbers this season from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Cucumbers: Everything You Need to Know
What to Look For
More often than not, you’ll be choosing cucumbers for salads and other cold preparations. If this is the case, be on the lookout for slender, dark green specimens without yellowed or shriveled skins.
Most cucumbers are slicing cucumbers—the kind used for chilled preparations. Common garden varieties of slicing cucumbers should be 8 to 10 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter at the center. If you can, avoid cucumbers coated with wax: their skin must be peeled, and with the skin goes the vitamin A. You’ll also find hothouse cucumbers, also known as English cucumbers, which are often sold wrapped in plastic. They are around 12 to 16 inches long and boast thin, smooth skin.
Unless the skin is waxed, there’s no need to peel cucumbers. (Check for wax by scraping the cucumber with a fingernail.) Pickling cucumbers should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush under cold running water to remove loose spines. Cucumbers may be seeded for stuffing or before slicing crosswise for a salad. To seed a cucumber, first slice it in half lengthwise, then use a melon baller or spoon to scoop out the seeds and the surrounding pulp. Proceed with stuffing or place the cucumber flat side down on a cutting board and slice crosswise.
Store cucumbers in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Do not put cucumbers in the coldest part of the refrigerator; they prefer temperatures just above 40°F (the temperature of most refrigerators). Sliced cucumbers will keep refrigerated in a covered container for two days.
Your Cucumber Toolkit
- Paderno Spiralizer, to make long ribbons of cucumber
- Mixed Peppercorns and other spices for making quick, easy pickles
- de Buyer Kobra Adjustable Slicer, for thinly slicing cucumbers
- Vitamix Professional Series 750 Blender, to puree cucumbers into soups and sauces
- Williams-Sonoma Open Kitchen Single Peeler, for peeling cucumbers and creating ribbons
- Shun Classic Western Chef’s Knife, for slicing and dicing
Cucumbers are perfect for refreshing summer salads, tossed with simple vinaigrettes, creamy dressings or tangy yogurt. Diced and cooked briefly in sauces, they become a delicate foil for fish and seafood. They are popular for pickling and also delicious additions to chilled soups. Below are a few choice preparations—no recipe required.
Quick Pickles: Combine white vinegar with a generous spoonful of pickling spices, sugar (if desired) and salt and bring to a boil. Pour mixture over sliced cucumbers. Let cool, then refrigerate up to 1 week.
Gazpacho: In a blender, puree peeled and seeded English cucumber, garlic, red onion, avocado, olive oil, lime juice and cilantro. Thin with vegetable stock as desired and season with salt and pepper.
Cucumber, Tomato & Red Onion Salad: Whisk together minced garlic, chopped fresh mint, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Toss peeled, seeded and diced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion with the dressing.
Tea Sandwiches: Whip cream cheese with fresh dill and lemon juice. Spread on white or pumpernickel bread. Using a mandoline, thinly slice cucumber lengthwise. Arrange on cream cheese, cut sandwiches into triangles and garnish with dill sprigs.
Asian Cucumber Salad: Using a vegetable spiralizer with the straight blade or a mandoline, slice cucumbers lengthwise into thin ribbons. Toss with rice vinegar, sesame oil, salt and toasted sesame seeds.
Tzatziki: Stir together peeled, seeded and diced cucumber with Greek yogurt, minced garlic, lemon juice and chopped fresh dill and mint. Season with salt and serve with grilled pita.
For a jolt of healthy greens, start your day with a cucumber-kale smoothie. Our test kitchen’s version uses a mixture of lemon juice and lemonade for bright, zingy flavor.
Crab and cucumber canapés are everything you’d want in an appetizer: They’re fast and easy to make, impressive, refreshing, elegant and light (and they also happen to be grain-free). use the freshest crabmeat you can find.
An easy cucumber-yogurt mixture is the highlight of this weeknight slow-cooker salmon dish. It’s a mixture of yogurt and cucumber with aromatics like shallot, dill, parsley and cumin for plenty of punch.
Cucumber’s so cooling that it deserves a starring role in a slushy summer granita. If you like, infuse a handful of chopped mint into the mixture when boiling the water, then strain it out before transferring the mixture to the blender with the cucumber.
The combination of cucumber and lime juice is a refreshing alternative to sweeter cocktails. To create the cucumber ribbon for garnishing our Cucumber Cooler, pull a vegetable peeler lengthwise down the cucumber, then line it inside of your glass.