Cukes not nukesBobby R. Presents Thursday, March 31st, 2011
In the next few weeks, if not already, we will see the beginning of the cucumber season that will last us through the summer. Being common to almost all Americans, the cucumber probably does not receive the recognition it deserves and falls easily into the background. In this issue, I look at different uses for the vegetable aside from placing rounds over the eyes to reduce heavy bags or the cold cucumber salad.
Cucumbers, or cukes as my grandmother called them, are part of the gourd family. For me, the cukes high water content and subtle melon flavor are the contributions that make them so refreshing. Aside from pickling and eating raw in salads or plain with some salt at the taco shop, I like to juice cucumbers. The water is then used in many applications such as cocktails and lemonade, emulsions for a fancy summer dish, a braising liquid for fish or used to make a sorbet.
To juice a cucumber, simply peel off the skin, cut it into rounds and puree using an immersion blender or counter blender. The pulp and liquid once sieved will produce approximately 1/2 cup of juice for each common cucumber. An English cucumber, which is longer with less seeds, will give slightly more.
My two favorite cocktail recipes using cucumber are both gin based, but vodka could easily be substituted.
The first: I infuse a bottle of gin with cucumber flavor by soaking peeled, chopped cukes in the gin for three days then strain. Pour the gin over ice with the juice of half a lime and some simple syrup. I shake the heck out of it then top it off with club soda. I assure even someone who doesn’t like gin will fall in love with this cocktail.
The second gives a stronger punch: I make a traditional gin martini using dry vermouth and Hendrick’s gin, which already has notes of cucumber, and muddle two cucumber rounds in the shaker with a very small sprig of thyme. After shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass, I garnish with a floating sprig of thyme and a cucumber round cut to fit on the side of the glass.
It may seem counter intuitive, and a little pretentious, to use cucumber water in a hot dish, but used as an emulsion or cooking liquid, the cucumber water adds its flare to a nice fish dinner and wows your guests.
I found another hot dish that uses the flesh of the cucumber written by James Beard in his book Beard on Food. He suggests peeling then cutting the cucumber into matchsticks (julienne cut), squeezing the water out of them with a kitchen towel and steaming them in butter with tarragon and lemon juice. I have tried this process a couple times, which is very mild in flavor and best served as a starter garnished with sorbet.
The sorbet I make with the cucumber water is a throw back to Bath and Body Works’ line of cucumber and melon scented products. First, make a simple syrup using 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 3/4 cup water. Once chilled, mix the simple syrup with 1 1/2 cups cucumber water and 1/2 cup midori, then apply to the ice cream maker per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once hardened, the sorbet is great on its own or as a garnish for a gazpacho. I have also seen it served with peppered, seared ahi called “Fire and Ice.”
We have looked at cucumber water used in drinks, as a dessert and as a savory main dish. I hope these examples have opened your mind to a new realm of cuke use and you will use the many days of spring and summer ahead to experiment. I know that I will keep myself refreshed with a cucumber cocktail and busy in the kitchen looking for other ways to utilize the many varieties I will find at the farmers’ market.
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