This summer, stay cool as a cucumber with this easy technique for salting and draining cucumbers. All you need is a healthy pinch of salt and a little time, and you’re well on your way to the crispest salad ever.
Prepare some cucumbers for Creamy Cucumber Salad tonight, maybe along with a breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, a pitcher of Lemon Spezi, and old fashioned Icebox Cake, made with nothing more than store-bought cookies and whipped cream. That’s some good eating, right there.
I love cucumbers because they’re so refreshing, especially on a hot summer’s day. Even on a veggie tray, they always seem to stay about 20 degrees cooler than anything else. How is that even possible? Because they’re mostly water.
Speaking of, I enjoy them sliced up in water, sliced thin on dainty sandwiches, or added to any of my favorite chopped salad recipes. And don’t even get me started on pickles. I could eat a whole jar.
But when it comes to making the best cucumber salads, I find that unless you take the time to properly salt and drain the cukes, the end product is watery, limp, and less than tasty.
This easy extra step makes extra crunchy slices, takes almost no effort at all, but gives a big payout in the crunch department.
You have to try it!
Why salt cucumbers?
If you’re using a dairy or mayonnaise based dressing, the extra water in the cucumbers could curdle. No one wants that.
Even if you’re making a cucumber salad with a vinaigrette, salted cucumbers don’t water down the dressing, so every bite is flavorful.
When do you need to salt cucumbers?
Some cooks love to salt and drain cucumbers every time they make something with them—even just to throw in a tossed salad.
But because of the time involved, I’d use this technique on any cucumber-prominent cold salad: Asian cucumber salads, or simple white vinegar, oil, tomato, cucumber, and onion salads…any recipe where you want a crisp slice of cuke.
Incidentally, Greek Tzatziki sauce uses salted grated cucumbers and yogurt. In fact, this recipe for chicken gyros with homemade tzatziki is on repeat in the summer…
What happens when you salt cucumber?
Adding salt to sliced cucumbers draws out the extra moisture in the vegetable, through a process called osmosis. Over time, the salt absorbs the water from the cucumber. What you’re left with is a slightly drier cucumber, which won’t ruin your salad.
How to salt and drain cucumbers:
By the way, this technique works with any type of cucumber: homegrown, Persian, English, seedless, Kirby, lemon, and garden varieties.
To start, you will need a colander or a mesh sieve, and a bowl.
- First, cut, chop, or slice your cucumbers into your preferred shape. Peel or don’t peel—that’s up to you.
For cukes with tougher skins, sometimes I score the peel with the tines of a fork to make a decorative pattern on the slices once they’re cut. That also makes eating easier!
- Next, layer the slices in the bottom of a colander, and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over them. Place another layer of cucumbers over the first layer, and salt again. You don’t really have to measure, but I usually use about 1/4 teaspoon salt for each layer.
- Make sure you place the colander over a bowl to catch the liquid as it drains out so you don't have a mess (or set your strainer over your kitchen sink). If your kitchen is warm or you have the space, pop the colander and bowl in the refrigerator to do its work.
- After one hour, your cucumbers should be ready to go. Using a clean paper towel, gently pat the extra salt off the slices, and then proceed with your salad.
How long do you have to drain cucumbers?
Some people insist that 20 to 30 minutes is enough time to drain salted cucumbers, but I like the dryness that an hour gives.
You can’t really overdo it. In the Midwest, some cooks make German style cucumber salads by salting the cucumber slices, placing the layers between paper towels, and letting them drain for up to 2 days! If you have the patience (I certainly don’t) try it and let me know how it goes in the comments.
Fun dressings for cucumber salads
Nothing is simpler or more delicious than a big bowl of sliced cucumbers and a fantastic dressing. My absolute favorite is this Creamy Cucumber Salad Recipe. If you aren't up for that, here are a few nice ones you can try instead:
- Nuoc cham. A Vietnamese dipping sauce that’s funky, salty, and sweet.
- Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing. The classic.
- Sesame Dressing. SO easy.
- Greek Salad Dressing. Red wine vinegar and loads of lemon.
- Green Goddess. Lean, green, and powerfully herby.
How to Drain Cucumbers
- 1 cucumber
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Layer cucumber slices in the bottom of a colander, and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt over them.
- Place another layer of cucumbers over the first layer, and salt again. Continue layers until all cucumbers are salted.
- Let cucumbers sit for one hour with the colander over a bowl to catch liquid, or set the colander in your kitchen sink.
- Using a clean paper towel, gently pat the extra salt off the slices, and then proceed with your salad.