I consider myself manly in many ways. No, I don’t benchpress anything heavier than, say, a 5 1/2-quart Le Creuset dutch oven. And while I’m definitely plucking more random hairs than I did 20 years ago, I’m not really that masculine looking. But give me a good craft beer, and sit me in front of a television set during college football season or March madness, and I’m a pretty happy girl. Or take me to a social event, and I’m more likely to drift toward a group of men conversing than a group of women. I’m not sure why I tend toward these ways; I grew up the middle child of three girls. We’re all that way — call it genetic?
But in our kitchen, my spouse and I? We fall into some typical gender rolls. I do most of the cooking, and Tim helps do dishes. I mop the floors, and he takes out the trash. I grocery shop, and he eats what I buy. But when it comes to grilling, he’s the one in charge, always. I literally don’t even know how to light a grill fire. Part of me is slightly ashamed of this, but then the other 99% of me thinks this is a great setup, and I’m more than happy to let him take the reigns. Because, as much of a control freak as I can be, I don’t really care at all to be in control of a grill.
I wonder: does grilling require the recall of some sort of primitive hunter-gatherer instinct? What is it, with men and fire?
Ultimately, I don’t care what causes the preference. Because My Man? He’s good at grilling.
A few years back, we saw Christopher Kimball give a very short talk in Atlanta. When we went up afterward to get our armloads of Kimball cookbooks signed, Tim asked him a question about grilling sausage. I don’t remember the question or his answer, but it was pretty simple, and at that point Tim decided he needed a copy of The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue to improve his skills. I’d say that book was a fantastic investment. Since then, even when he’s grilling a cut of meat for the first time, it’s usually really well-cooked. Even perfect — as it was last Saturday night.
Saturday was a crazy day that capped a crazy week, so I was happy when Tim enthusiastically agreed to my suggestion of defrosting two of the fillets from our grass-fed beef quarter, with his being in charge of cooking them. I ran a few errands, picking up some mushrooms for a side of creamy polenta, and when I returned, he was finishing up a compound butter made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. At this point, I knew he’d been doing his research, and was taking his assignment very seriously. The dinner rush was even more hectic than usual — we were working in an already-messy kitchen, which I was trying to partially clean as we cooked. So while I didn’t get to pay close attention to his process, I remember hearing exclamations of concern that his fire wasn’t hot enough, that he didn’t know our instant-read thermometer is about 10º off, etc., as he rushed in and out of the kitchen carrying various tongs and platters. What I do know is that, after he lifted the foil off the cooked, rested meat, and we served it up alongside the polenta and topped it with a generous slab of the herbed butter, it looked like quite a luxurious meal.
And the first cut underscored that premonition. It was — I would go so far as to say — perfectly mid-rare. Tender, juicy, and fragrant with parsley, a touch of lemon, and the full-bodied flavor of pasture butter. Compound butters (butter that’s softened and mixed with herbs and other flavorings, rolled into a log, and re-chilled so it can be sliced) are recommended with good cuts of beef because they complement the flavors of the grassfed beef without overpowering. These fillets didn’t need much at all — their flavor was outstanding — but the butter took it to places somewhat otherwordly.
The only drawback was my appetite — or lack thereof. I don’t know why, but for some reason that night I just wasn’t very hungry (my hunch is that it had something to do with consuming a good bit of the “lunch” items I helped peddle that morning at my son’s school’s mini-carnival). So while I thoroughly enjoyed about half my steak, I was then ready to pass the other half to Tim, who by the end of my steak was declaring it the best grilling effort he’s ever accomplished. I wholeheartedly agreed with him; and the next day at lunch, I was wishing I had the rest of that steak back.
But no matter. We have a good bit more steak where that came from, and I’m getting used to this method of suggestion on Saturdays. Call it manipulation if you will; but if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a woman’s is a night off from cooking.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.