I know that I am behind the times; I just watched Julie and Julia for the first time this week. The Oscar nods have already come and gone. Julie Powell has her own wikipedia entry and her second book has flopped.
Better than Meryl Streep
One thing stands out more than Meryl Streep’s delightful rendition of Julia Child – the revelation of braised cucumbers. As far as many foodies are concerned, this is one recipe from the sometimes overwrought French tradition that merits some attention.
It is easy to watch Julie Powell (or Amy Adams rendition of her) wrestle with Lobster Thermidor, aspic, or Pâté de Canard en Croûte and think “why would anyone want to go to all the trouble to make that in the first place?”
Fussy French Food for Modern Palates
Much of the French cooking that Julia Child brought to America now belongs to another time in American cooking, one of heavy sauces, meat as a centerpiece, and little variety in produce. Just as few these days would dream of serving aspic at an elegant soiree, potpies and casseroles are not the dinner staples they once were.
But as the UN recommends a vegetarian diet and “lessmeatarianism” gains ground, there is a place on modern plates for those braised cucumbers. Like many foodies who watched Julie & Julia, I immediately went in search of a recipe. Although it seems the version in the movie may be missing from updated editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I was able to find the gist of it online.
Braising to the Rescue
Food bloggers everywhere have been delighted to discover what a little salt and oven time can do to the humble cucumber. And for those with a farm share, this is yet another answer to the never-ending question: what am I going to do with all these cucumbers?
Unfortunately, braising, like most type of oven cooking (French or otherwise), requires a pretty significant time commitment. In the case of these precious cucumbers, you are looking at a solid hour of cooking time. And since the cukes are supposed to be dried out and every so slightly pickled first, that is another half hour (at least) of prep time.
A Quick Braising Solution
To save the day (or at least the timeliness of your dinner), here is a quick braising solution. While, like many of Julie Powell’s creations, this may not be the pinnacle of scientific perfection that Julia Child’s recipe produces, it is still surprisingly good.
The texture is really surprising and I believe this is what makes people so wild about braised cucumbers. After cooking, the cucumbers loose their crunch, without deflating as other water-logged vegetables like onions do. Instead the crispness is replaced by a luxurious smoothness and a taste that, for lack of a better comparison, is like a banana.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
Braised Cucumber Recipe
Prep time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4-6 (as a side . . . though I have heard two people can easily devour this much)
Adapted from A(nother) Year on the French Diet
- three large cucumbers
- half of a small lemon
- small handful of mint
- Peel the cucumbers and cut in half (lengthwise).
- In a very wide pan, set two tablespoons of butter to melt over medium-low heat.
- Remove the seeds from the cucumbers with a spoon and make another lengthwise cut to cut them into quarters.
- Cut the quarters into one inch chunks and add to the pan.
- Stir the cucumbers to coat them with the butter, cover the pan, and raise the heat to medium.
- Allow the cucumbers to cook in their own juices for five minutes.
- Chop the mint finely and add with the juice from the lemon and a generous teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine and recover.
- After another five minutes, remove the lid from the cucumbers. Once the liquid has burnt off, the cucumbers are ready.
These don’t keep well! We had them in the fridge for about two or three days and they smelled strange. They left an oozy residue in the tupperware that was unpleasant to clean, too. But they were good fresh so eat them while they are.