At Momofuku Nishi, chef Joshua Pinsky unlocks cucumber's flavor potential with a technique we should all be doing at home.
Every Friday, we're publishing This Good Thing, where we'll feature a restaurant dish, store-bought food item, kitchen tool, or food-adjacent obsession that we can't stop thinking about.
In addition to a recent revamping, David Chang's Italian-inflected Momofuku Nishi unveiled a brunch menu in March, debuting a triple-stacked Dagwood Sandwich with sardines and roasted chicken thigh and a smoky, mapo tofu-esque Eggs in Purgartory, plus a slew of morning cocktails, our favorite being the Resting Brunch Face with rye, averna amaro, cold brew coffee, and orange bitters.
But the one dish we continue to crave is hardly brunchy—it's an understated, $6 bowl of cucumber, prepared so nicely we had to ask executive chef Joshua Pinsky for his secret to serving a water-packed gourd in such a flavor-dense manner. The antipasto, called "Cucumbers & Oregano," is complicated and rich, with a layered herbaceousness that evokes the brightest Greek salad.
"Cucumbers are friendly, crisp and sweet," Pinsky told me. "There's always been a place for them at Momofuku, whether on a pork bun or with Noodle Bars' spicy cucumber salad."
In a country where cucumbers are so rarely presented as stars, we respect when chefs take the time to access their mild flavor and make it anything but. The inspiration for this particular dish, he said, came from one of his favorites: indeed, a Greek-style cucumber salad with feta.
"Oregano is one of my favorite herbs, so I chose that and garlic, added a touch of our chickpea hozon to extenuate the umami flavor and make it more 'Momofuku,'" he said. The main focus was keeping it simple.
Pinksy, who admitted that raw cucumbers are "rather boring and can often end up dry and even bitter," offered one main tip for avoiding cuke pitfalls: Cure them with salt and sugar before doing anything else with them. This will lock in the moisture and flavor. (Here's a cucumber salad recipe that offers specific ratios for that method. These Taiwanese sesame cucumbers are another favorite.)
The chef's go-to preparation of cucumbers at home (after, of course, the preliminary curing)? "Salted cucumbers with oregano, feta, raw radish, and Wishbone Italian dressing," he said. "If you put that on a burger, you're making my all time favorite dish, which I’ve never actually made yet."
You heard it here first—Wishbone Italian dressing.