Steven Raichlen has a Q39 platter in front of him as he interviews Carolyn Wells, one of the founders of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and one of the most important names in the Land of Low and Slow.
Raichlen — a prolific author who has built an empire off of his best-selling “Barbecue! Bible” cookbook series, PBS cooking shows and merchandise spinoffs — has briefly stepped away from his bread and butter to make a detour to Guy-dom. He’s midway through a 27-city book tour for his latest tome, “Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook for Guys” (Workman Publishing, $24.95).
“This is the book that I didn’t want to write,” Raichlen says, as Wells waves goodbye and we move to another table to order a brisket burger to split, a plate of wings and some doughnut holes.
A few years ago, publisher Peter Workman proposed a cookbook for men.
“I kept saying I couldn’t figure out how to make it more than a recipe book, and I don’t write recipe books,” Raichlen recalls telling Workman. “You sell recipe books, but I write them for very different reasons. I write them because there is a story to tell where there’s culture, history and anthropology and people and biography and geography and all the things that I am interested in.”
Then a book Raichlen’s wife was reading — “Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee” by Thomas J. Craughwell — changed all that.
“Barbara looked up from the book and said, ‘Hey, Julia Child wasn’t America’s first foodie; it was Thomas Jefferson,” Raichlen recalls. “All of a sudden a light bulb went off, and (I thought) there’s an interesting story here about guys and history and food.”
When the Continental Congress sent Jefferson to France for five years to drum up trade, Jefferson took his slave James Hemings with him to apprentice to a French chef. When the two men returned to Monticello, they brought back more than 80 crates of copper cookware and exotic ingredients, including Dijon, Champagne and truffles. Jefferson is also credited with introducing Americans to the french fry, macaroni and cheese and creme brulee.
Jefferson is but one of the “Food Dude” profiles peppering “Man Made Meals.” Raichlen even asked Craughwell to “channel” Jefferson for the Q&A. Other profiles include celebrity chefs such as Jose Andres and Thomas Keller, actor Stanley Tucci, activist/journalist Michael Pollan and food TV personality Andrew Zimmern, as well as non-famous guys, including a 20-something blogger.
“Once I had that, the book really started to get interesting,” Raichlen says.
Next, he came up with a “canon — dishes that every red-blooded, self-respecting man should know how to do: shuck an oyster, cook a steak, boil a lobster, rock a bar shaker, make a kick-ass chili.”
The result is four years of research compiled into 645 pages with such manly recipes as Blowtorch Salmon, Fire-Eater Chicken Wings, Skillet Rib Steak and Really Good Beef and Pork Chili.
But is there any difference between how men and women cook?
“At the risk of venturing out onto sexist thin ice and plunging into the slushy murk of a (he pauses) very, very dangerous territory obviously, I do believe there are differences, and one difference is that women cook meals and men cook dishes,” Raichlen says.
“Men tend to cook louder than women. By that I mean louder flavors, so I wanted to talk about how to boost flavors if you have a timid palate, and then how to warn about the ‘guy syndrome’ that says if some is good, more is better” — i.e. if a tablespoon of Tabasco is good, why not a cup?
Ask Karen Adler and Judith Fertig — Kansas City-based cookbook authors known as the ’Que Queens for their prowess at the grill — if there is a difference in the way men and women cook, they answer emphatically: “Oh, yes! Men are meat-centric, and they want to develop a technique, and they want to have all these gadgets. It’s sort of like their claim to fame and a hobby. It gives them bragging rights.”
“Women really think of a whole meal,” Fertig says.
“Women get stuck cooking a meal five nights a week, so in some sense it is a labor and an obligation,” Raichlen concedes. “When guys cook, it’s an event and recreation. But I really emphasize in the book for guys to think about it as a meal.”
Two other big differences in the way men and women cook: “Any time you can repurpose a power tool, like a blow torch or an immersion blender — anything that can land you in the emergency room — we really like that,” he says.
And, dessert is “a traditional shortcoming for guys.”
Voila! The Candied Bacon Sundae, Belgian Beer Brownies and Deconstructed Bananas Foster — another chance to use that blowtorch.
“It’s a good book for both sexes,” Raichlen insists.
Just don’t expect to find a recipe for cupcakes: “They aren’t really guy food.”
Makes 4 appetizer servings or 2 to 3 servings as a light main course
1 pound skinless salmon fillet, preferably wild, well-chilled
1 heaping tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon hot water, or as needed
1/2 cup good soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
1/4 cup yuzu juice or rice vinegar (or 2 tablespoons each of fresh lemon and lime juice)
Run your fingers over the salmon fillet, feeling for bones. Pull out any you find with needle-nose pliers or tweezers (or your fingers). Holding a knife on a 45-degree angle to the cutting board, cut the salmon fillet crosswise on the diagonal into thin (not more than 1/4-inch) slices. Arrange the salmon slices in a single layer on a heatproof platter or plates. Slice the salmon not more than 1 hour before serving and keep the platter or plates of salmon slices on ice or in the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce: place the wasabi in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of hot water or as needed — enough to form a thick paste when stirred. Let this paste stand for 5 minutes to let the heat and flavor develop. Place a marble-size blob on each plate.
Divide the soy sauce and yuzu juice or rice vinegar evenly among 4 small bowls.
Just before serving, light the blowtorch and run the flame over the salmon just long enough to lightly singe the edges and to bring the oils to the surface, about 15 seconds. The leading edge of the flame should be about 1 inch above the fish.
Serve at room temperature. Have each eater add wasabi paste to taste to the soy sauce mixture, stirring it in with chopsticks. Dip the salmon into the wasabi sauce and get ready to experience crudo (raw fish) at its electrifying best.
Per serving, based on 2: 308 calories (24 percent from fat), 8 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 118 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 49 grams protein, 2,896 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Tenpenny Nail Baked Potato
Makes 1 serving; can be multiplied as desired
For the potato:
1 large baking potato (12 to 14 ounces)
1 teaspoon melted bacon fat or butter, or 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
Any or all of the following for serving:
Thinly sliced chives or scallions
Grated cheddar cheese
Crisped slivered bacon (no Fako-Bits, please)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Scrub the potato all over with a vegetable brush. Rinse the potato well and blot it dry with a paper towel. Prick the potato skin 3 or 4 times with a fork. Drive a clean tenpenny nail through the potato into the center. The nail will get hot and speed the cooking process. Brush or rub the potato on all sides with the bacon fat, butter or olive oil and season it generously with salt and pepper. Place the potato on a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil.
Bake the potato until the skin is browned and crisp and the potato is cooked through, 40 minutes to 1 hour. When done the potato should feel soft when you squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. Or use a skewer or a fork to test for doneness; it should pierce the potato easily.
To serve, squeeze the sides of the potato between your thumb and forefinger in a few places to soften the flesh. Remove the nail (careful, it will be very hot) and, using a paring knife, make a 1-inch-deep slit along the top of the potato. Squeeze the ends of the potato to open it up. Spoon in some butter, sour cream, chives or scallions, cheddar cheese, and/or bacon slivers, as desired.
Per serving: 303 calories (12 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 61 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 59 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Candied Bacon Sundaes
Makes 4 servings
Candied bacon and walnuts:
4 thick slices bacon (4 ounces), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slivers
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or rice vinegar
3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 pint (2 cups) maple-walnut ice cream, or more to taste
Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling
For the candied bacon and walnuts: Place the bacon in a cold skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the fat renders and bacon begins to brown and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the walnuts and continue cooking until the bacon and walnuts are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Do not let them burn. Drain the bacon mixture by placing it in a strainer over a heatproof bowl. Save the bacon fat for a future use, like frying potatoes.
Return the bacon and walnuts to the skillet and add the 1/2 cup maple syrup and the vinegar. Cook the bacon mixture over medium heat until it is thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. The mixture should have a pourable consistency. Set the skillet aside and keep warm. (The candied bacon can be made earlier in the day; cover the skillet and set it aside. Rewarm the candied bacon over low heat when you are ready to serve the sundaes.)
For the sundaes: Place the cream and 2 tablespoons maple syrup in a chilled metal bowl and, using a mixer or whisk, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Alternatively, pour the cream and maple syrup into a CO2 charger and shake well to mix, 7 to 8 times. Invert the charger and squeeze the handle and release the whipped cream. Refrigerate the maple whipped cream, covered, until serving.
To assemble: Scoop the ice cream into balls and place 1 scoop in each of 4 sundae glasses or bowls. Spoon the warm candied bacon and walnuts on top. Top with the maple whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Per serving: 658 calories (60 percent from fat), 45 grams total fat (19 grams saturated), 108 milligrams cholesterol, 52 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, 525 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.