This salad serves 2 to 4 people. You can double the recipe to make a larger batch. You will have leftover chili oil in this recipe. Toss the chili oil with noodles, rice, or dumplings. Refrigerate the oil and use it within a week. If you need a video demo, watch the video at the bottom of the recipe card.
The chili oil needs time to infuse so I recommend making this first. You can also make it a day ahead.
Add the minced garlic, minced ginger, chili flakes, gochugaru, and salt in a heat-proof bowl. You’re going to pour hot oil into the bowl, so avoid using bowls that might crack (like glass and some porcelains). I usually use ceramic bowls but a stainless steel mixing bowl or a saucepan works.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the oil reaches 325ºF to 350ºF. You do not want the oil to be any hotter because the gochugaru will burn. If you don’t have a thermometer, heat the oil for 2 minutes just to be on the safe side.
Very carefully pour the hot oil over the spices. (See note 4) Let the oil infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Make Cucumber Salad
Slice off the ends of the cucumbers. Then, slice the cucumbers in half, lengthwise.
Place the cucumber halves, cut side down. Then place the side of the knife over the cucumber. Using the fleshy part of your palm smack the knife to smash the cucumber until it splits. Make sure to smash along the entire length of the cucumber. Then, slice the cucumbers diagonally, about 1/2-inch thick slices. Transfer the cucumber pieces to a bowl.
Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the cucumbers and mix. Let the cucumbers sit for 20 minutes. Then, drain out the excess water at the bottom of the bowl. (See note 5) You do not need to rinse the cucumbers. (See note 6)
Add the grated/zested garlic to a bowl and mix it with the rice vinegar. Let that sit for 10 to 15 minutes to mellow out the raw bite of the garlic.
Add the soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of chili oil (with bits of pepper and spices), sugar, and sesame oil.
Right before you are ready to serve the cucumber salad, toss the cucumber pieces with the sauce. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the cucumber salad for garnish.
These are the standard red pepper flakes that you can find in the spice aisles of your grocery store. They should be a medium level of spice.
I love using gochugaru for my chili oil because it has subtle spice and a light smoky flavor. More importantly, it turns the chili oil into a beautiful shade of red that is unparalleled. You can find gochugaru in Korean supermarkets in big bags. I also love Mother-In-Law’s gochugaru, which comes in relatively small jars.
I like using Japanese cucumbers because of their tender seeds and subtly sweet flavor. You can also use Persian cucumbers or English (hot house) cucumbers.
Some people have asked me if you can just add the spices into the saucepan with the hot oil. You can but you run the risk of burning the spices because the heated saucepan retains a lot of heat. If you want to do this, then I’d recommend heating up the oil to a lower temperature, like 300ºF to ensure that the spices don’t burn.
To be honest, I don’t always salt the cucumbers beforehand. That’s either because I forget or can’t be bothered to do so. I also think that I can taste the sweetness of the cucumbers better if I don’t salt the cucumbers. If you don’t salt the cucumbers, a pool of liquid will form at the bottom of the bowl of salad. I’m not bothered by the liquid. In fact, I like using the liquid to season rice.
If you are concerned about salt intake, you can reduce the soy sauce for the cucumber sauce by about 1 teaspoon.