Guest Author - Chidori Phillips
Cucumber Sunomono can be simple but this one transcends ordinary with the addition of colorful slivers of kamaboko (fish cake with a pink rim) and sweet, seasoned baby clams. My mother makes hers sweet, and everyone loves it. It is an excellent accompaniment that can make a humble rice ball a real meal and dress up a plain bento box. It is a favorite party menu request and is not the same without the seasoned clams!
You can use English or Japanese type cucumbers. Just be sure to peel or score the skin, especially the waxy rinds of English cucumbers, if you use them. When the sugar to vinegar ratio is so high, as in this recipe, getting the sugar to dissolve takes more stirring. Alternatively, you can heat the rice vinegar in a small pot to help it absorb more sugar (remember your high school chemistry?) Cool before adding the cucumbers.
Be sure to read the label of the canned clams to see that you are buying seasoned (ajitsuke) baby (kogai) clams. Do not confuse them with other types of canned clams like akagai (red clams) or plain (unseasoned) kogai clams.
Ajitsuke clams are cooked during the canning process and then seasonings, like soy sauce and sugar, are added. The size of the baby clams match well with the sliced cucumbers. Fresh clams should not be used even though the vinegar could pickle them in the same way that citrus juice cooksEraw seafood in Mexican Ceviche. The fresh clams can add too much moisture and dilute the sweet vinegar brine.
Cucumber Namasu with Kogai Ajitsuke Clams
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced thinly
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. mirin
1 6 oz. can ajitsuke kogai clams, drained
1/4 cup pink and white kamaboko, julienned
Peel or score the skin of the cucumbers. Slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Then slice very thinly. Use a mandolin, if you have one. Place sliced cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with salt. With your fingers, toss cucumber slices to be sure salt gets distributed. Let cucumbers sit to release some moisture for about 20 minutes. Squeeze out the excess moisture from the cucumbers.
In a large bowl, stir together the rice vinegar, sugar and mirin until sugar is dissolved. Add the drained seasoned baby clams, julienned kamaboko and cucumbers. Toss well. Transfer all into a non-metal container with a lid. Refrigerate and marinate for 24 hours before serving.
Although no garnish is necessary, a few slivers of shredded nori or toasted sesame seeds make this pickled dish even more attractive.
Cucumber Sunomono Recipe
For the basic sunomono ecipe, follow the above directions but omit the clams and kamaboko.