Accent on Living

MAN IN THE KITCHEN (cont.)—A trial-and-error cook, obliged to operate within easy reach of a cookhook or two, is bound to be stunned with satisfaction when one of his projects succeeds. This is especially true of any stray formula that he has picked up on his own and not from a cookbook. It does not occur to him that most cooks have long since mastered the process that he has just learned, and few subjects can inspire the zeal with which two non-cooks will exchange even the most elementary recipes. I am aware of this — aware too that women who read this page may regard my findings as merely belated; but I am too newly the proprietor of two sour-cream ventures to be able to keep quiet about them.

The first is a veal dish, to be accompanied by rice. (I am still working towards a better version of rice. . . .) This one is easy to prepare, needs no touching-up en route, and yields a powerful gravy for the rice without the least effort by the cook. The ingredients: eight or ten sliced onions, a two or three pound slice of veal, 1″ to 1ġ″ thick, cut from the leg, and one pint of sour cream. (Serves 4-6.)

Any old time during the afternoon will do for getting the veal dish started. The onions, peeled and sliced thin, are brought to the yellow with a lump of butter in a heavy skillet over a low flame. About ten minutes, perhaps fifteen, will do it, and the onions should not be allowed to brown. Then pile the onions at the edge of the skillet, away from the heat, and sear the veal briskly on both sides, turning up the flame for this interval. (I am assured by an M.I.T. chemist-cook that the searing causes the veal to exude a gelatinous substance which prevents the sour cream from curdling later on; yet all I know is that several women, good cooks all, warn me it will curdle anyhow, but mine does not.)

With the onions yellowed and the veal seared, the cook can suit the rest of the process to his convenience. All that remains is to turn the flame very low, add the pint of sour cream, stir the onions into the cream, dap on a sufficient lid, and let t he whole thing simmer for the hour before serving. An extra few minutes won’t matter, if guests are late, but the low flame matters a great deal, and the mixture should be barely bubbling while cooking. Just before transferring the veal to a platter and the gravy to a bowl, stir in a jigger of good cognac or, if you prefer, the same amount of a not too sweet Madeira. (A dry sherry will do, but the flavor is rather aggressive for so delicate a context.) If the rice is too much trouble, one can always pick up a quart or two from a Chinese restaurant and reheat it in a colander over boiling water, or else substitute that always dependable, no-work adjunct of the trialand-error menu — the baked potato.

The other sour-cream recipe is mentioned here more for the purpose of expounding the case for the pressed cucumber than for enlarging the uses of sour cream. It is true that the only sauce or dressing which accompanies the pressed cucumber is sour cream, but the pressing itself is the point. Anyone who has sampled pressed cucumbers will disdain the impressed version from that time on, and pressing serves to transform this rather uninteresting vegetable into an estimable item in its own right. No extra work is required, bill eight or ten hours of waiting must be allowed for.

For a trial run, then, peel three or four sizable cucumbers and slice them to about the thickness of a dime the thinner the better. Spread the slices in layers in an ordinary mixing bow! with sloping sides, and salt each layer generously. Set a plate on top of the pile of slices — a plate of such a size that its edges are a half-inch or so short of touching the sides of the bowl. Put something heavy—a rock, a flatiron — on the plate and set the bowl in the refrigerator.

In the course of the next two or three hours, the plate will have settled until its edge is touching the bowl. It should he replaced by a smaller plate, on which the weight can continue to press the slices. Any accumulated fluid should be poured off. Eventually, the pile of slices will have dwindled to less than half its original bulk, and an astonishing quantity of fluid — especially if the cucumbers are fresh and in good condition — will have been eliminated.

The individual slice of cucumber, once the pressing is completed, will seem alarmingly limp. But, on sampling, it will prove to have a crackling consistency quite unlike any unpressed cucumber. Sour cream — a cup or thereabouts spiked with two tablespoons of vinegar — and black pepper complete the recipe.

As I re-examine these suggestions, it occurs to me that many a household — or many an apartment, at any rate — may not include in its equipment either a flatiron or a rock, such is the flimsiness of our modern belongings. In that case, a two-quart can of tomato juice will provide about the right degree of squeeze, and one could make shift with a big can of almost anything.

The common objection to sourcream dishes. I find, is that sour cream is fattening. It probably is, but the novice cook, seeking as he must the maximum of appeal in return for the minimum of work, is advised to let the calories fall where they may.