Sundays at the Eastern Market flea market feature a few cooking related vendors, at least they did six years ago. There was this one vendor, a bearded man in his 60s, with a massive collection of old cookbooks and an even older collection of cast iron pans. I indulged in both.
Let me be clear though, six years ago I didn’t know a fucking thing about food. I didn’t know about cookware or ingredients or experts. I did know, however, that I needed to learn more than what I picked up by casually watching 30 Minute Meals after work.
One very thick cookbook stood out in the bearded man’s collection with its firm tone and streamlined recipes. I flipped through the pages thinking this could be a great, general cook book. The bearded man asked me, as I kept flipping, “Do you have any of his cookbooks at home? Familiar with James Beard?”
“No,” I smiled, “I’m not familiar.”
He encouraged me to buy it. And so I took home the 1981 version of The New James Beard and read it like a novel, well, a novel’s sequel. That fucker James Beard is clever.
In his recipe for “Chicken Salad with Fresh Coriander” (side note: he calls cilantro “Chinese parsley”), Beard instructs: “Roast the chicken according to directions in Theory & Practice (page 83)” and then proceeds with the duration of the recipe.
I’m not sure if he assumes everyone already owns his previous book or he wanted to boost his sales, or both, but I went back to Eastern Market. The bearded vendor stocked it. I bought it. Both Beards won.
I take out New everyone once in a while when I’m looking to cook something basic, like rice. Or want some inspiration for a new way to cook a vegetable. Beard didn’t disappoint as I made the best fucking cucumbers of all time.
Grouper and Sauteed Cucumbers with Cream
So it’s not really fair that I give all the credit to Mr. Beard. He’s an avid supporter of heavy cream, so I must acknowledge its role in the success of this dish. But still. I wasn’t sure if 80 and I could dig warm cukes. We were wrong. They are the best. Soft, but still crunchy. Mellow, yet fresh.
In a stainless steel pan, heated, I added a bunch of butter and oil and then placed the salt-and-peppered grouper seasoned side down. While that was cooking I boiled one sliced cucumber in salted water for 3 minutes, then drained.
After a few minutes I flipped the fish, which was dotted with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. In another few minutes I doused the pan with heavy cream, added in the cucumber slices with more butter, salt, pepper, lemon juice and chopped parsley. I let that hang for about 2 minutes and then served it with brown rice.
Beard’s recipe didn’t include the lemon juice and used tarragon instead of parsley. His was also a stand alone, but I figured I could enhance the fish by finishing it with the cucumber dish.
Also, how the hell do you cut a cucumber into “oval lozenges?” I wussed out and simply sliced the cucumber. Maybe I should turn to Theory & Practice.