I’m Not Familiar
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.
If I had to guess, I’d say that you would create oval lozenges by slicing the cucumber on an angle.
It’s a bit embarrassing, but the cookbook I keep on hand to refer to for very basic recipes is a late ’80s version of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, one that a college housemate abandoned when she moved out. It’s no James Beard, that’s for damn sure, but if I need to know what temperature to set the oven to bake a potato or how to make sugar cookie dough or how many tablespoons equal a quarter-cup, it never disappoints.
I’m intrigued by the cooked cukes. I’ve NEVER thought of cooking them or eating them warm. How did they not completely break down?
@Summer, yes. I have a BH&G, a gift from my mom when I got my first apartment. I’m pretty sure it’s the only cookbook she uses, but it is a handy once or twice a year reference guide for me.
i know! i have no idea how the cukes didnt disintegrate in that hot water. my dad was in disbelief when i was recounting the dish to him earlier today.
in the cookbook Beard says that by boiling the cukes it takes away that bitter taste. and then i thought to myself, yea, maybe cukes are a bit bitter tasting. i had never thought of that before. which is a larger problem bc i often forget to *really* taste what i’m eating, instead of just eating.
anyway, yes. the cukes still had a lot of fight in ’em after all of the heat they endured. it was quite remarkable. and delicious.
and @summer. thanks for the cutting guess. i really need to bump up my knife skills.
I hear you on the taste vs. eating thing. I just thought that was *cucumber* taste. Hmmm…That’s another post.
I googled ‘cooked cucumbers’ and am finding some really surprising links. Some kind of Korean cooked cucumber salad. Cucumber curry. If my extremely slow garden cucumber plants ever decide to live up to their potential, I could be in a position where I need a solution for extras. Cooked cucumbers might turn out to be the discovery of the summer.
I’ve never thought of the cucumber taste as “bitter.” I’d describe it as more clean or – maybe – astringent.
I’m a sucker for ice water with slices of lemon and cucumber floating in it for exactly that clean-tasting reason. Take that away and I’m pretty sure the cucumber becomes a wetter version of iceberg lettuce. Meh.
my roommate says she used to cook burritos in her microwave in college using tortillas, rolled with cheese and cucumbers inside. Sounded disgusting to me, but she has a palate I respect so maybe cooked cukes aren’t so bad?
We threw some slivers of Japanese soyu cucumber (finally, an abundance of something other than summber squash…c’mon tomatoes) on Mr. Nee Nee’s stir fry last night, and it was really damn good. Different, and good. Would have never thought of it were it not for this ES post. Thanks, Gansie!
I had Malaysian for lunch today and the beef rendang (hot dish) was served with cucumbers — just barely cooked so that they went with the dish but still retained their bite. Loved it!