I’d never thought about using cucumber in a stir-fry before, but this is very common in Laos, where cucumbers are prolific growers and very cheap to buy. Not much meat is used in proportion to the amount of cucumbers. Increase the quantity to suit yourself. Chicken, turkey or pork is a fine substitute for duck. The recipe serves 6 – 8 as part of a Lao family meal. Half the recipe would be enough for four people if served as one of two main dishes along with rice for a simple, easy meal.
5 medium cucumbers or 2 telegraph cucumbers, washed (choose young ones with thin, edible skin and small seed core if possible)
½ duck breast with skin (or equivalent in thigh meat and skin)
1 T garlic, chopped
2 T fish sauce
2 T thin soy sauce
1 T chicken stock powder (optional)
3 T oyster sauce
½ t sugar
1 t chilli paste to taste (optional)
¼ C spring onion greens, finely sliced
- Separate the duck skin from the flesh, reserving fat. Slice the fat into 1 cm (½ in) pieces and the skin into 2 cm (1 in) slices. Set aside. Slice the duck meat finely across the grain. Set aside.
Toss the chopped fat and skin into a heated wok set over a medium flame. Allow the fat to render down and the skin to fry until golden brown and crisp. At this stage (there will be a change in the frying sound and a fragrance released), push the crisp skin to one side. While the skin and fat are cooking, prepare the cucumbers.
- Peel the cucumbers if the skin is tough and bitter; cucumber is used in this dish to impart sweetness. Slice them in thin diagonal wedges, creating slices that taper off about two-thirds of the way through the cucumber. See soi slicing technique.
Add the chopped garlic to the rendered fat and then the meat. Stir fry several minutes until the colour changes. Add the crisp duck skin and then the cucumber. Mix together and stir fry until all is heated through and starting to cook. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, stock powder, oyster sauce, optional chilli paste and sugar, briefly stirring between each addition to distribute the flavours evenly and merge them together.
- Cover and let cook for a few more minutes. The moisture from the cucumbers should be released to form a tasty sauce with the other flavourings, but the vegetable must not be overcooked. It should remain crisp.
- Taste for flavour and adjust. Stir in the spring onion greens. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- For a low saturated fat dish, substitute the duck fat and skin with any oil other than olive. However, using the rendered fat and skin adds a silky richness and depth to the dish.
- For a vegetarian alternative, use oil and substitute tofu for the meat or add a second vegetable to replace the meat. Vegetables might include a mix of Savoy cabbage and Chinese yellow flowering cabbage.
- If cooking this dish with pork, consider adding pork fat and skin for authenticity.