Steven Raichlen understands men and how they tend to cook. He speaks the lingo.
So in his newest book, "Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook For Guys" (Workman Publishing, $24.95), he's articulate, helpful and funny. (Just check the chapter heads: "Hog," "Steer," "Birds and a Rabbit.")
He freely acknowledges that men "need to know how to drag the meat back to the cave" and cook it.
He recognizes that most men, while they enjoy cooking, will want to make a much bigger production of a meal than women. "Flames. Smoke. Sharp implements. Blowtorches. High-tech gear and power tools. We guys love this stuff," he said.
He reminds his readers to read the recipe start to finish, to assemble and prepare ingredients, to clean up as they go and to season incrementally, adding salt and pepper gradually along the process.
He offers good advice: "Taste, taste, taste." "Buy the best you can afford." "Use high heat to achieve a dark brown color just shy of burnt."
Yet he boils it down to the basics: "All the world's cooking can be accomplished using five basic processes: gathering, cutting, mixing, seasoning, and transforming by heat, cold or chemical reaction. Five — that's it. Master them, and you'll rule the kitchen."
Raichlen has provided more than 300 recipes, from the simple, such as scrambled eggs and hot dogs (never boil or simmer them, page 118), to show-stopping numbers such as "Finger-Burner Lamb Chops" (see accompanying recipe) and "Spice-Crusted Whole Beef Tenderloin."
And he's tossed in tips and hints as well as advice from more than a dozen celebrity "food dudes," such as actor Stanley Tucci, chef Thomas Keller and activists Michael Pollan and Jim Denovan.
"I tried to pick men who had something interesting to say about food. The activism theme is very important because as more and more families have two working parents, if the man doesn't shoulder some of the cooking, our kids may never eat home-cooked meals," he said.
Raichlen told the Deseret News that it used to be that men didn't cook in the kitchen. If they cooked, they cooked outdoors on the grill (or more often, burned the food on the grill).
"Guys didn't always realize there's a difference between grilling and burning. So guys needed to know it's OK — even cool — to cook," he said.
"Today, most guys are comfortable with the notion of men in the kitchen and cooking. So the challenge is more changing how men think."
For one thing, men like to be instant experts, Raichlen said. "In other words, we lack the patience for a slow climb up a learning curve," he said.
"That's why I start with the concept of culinary literacy in the first chapter — what every man needs to know in the kitchen. Not everything. Just the essentials. Killer chili. The perfect steak. How to cook a romantic dinner complete with a fail-proof seduction chocolate dessert," Raichlen said.
"That's also why I've tried to make the recipes super easy to use, outlining what you need to buy, what tools you need, what you need to know and how long it will take you."
Raichlen explained that men have a paradoxical relationship with simplicity and complication.
"We like food to be simple (think burgers, brats, nachos, steak) until we want it to be complicated. Then we want it really complicated, like an 18-ingredient chili or an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink beef stew," he said.
He makes it clear that he is a writer, not a chef. While chefs cook for a living, he writes to earn his keep, but he did study classical French cuisine at the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris. He's been writing about food, cooking and grilling for more than 30 years.
In his cookbooks, he writes for the normal guy by giving clear explanations, useful information and recipes a normal man who is not a chef will want to prepare.
Some men need to start with learning to shop for first-rate ingredients and to equip a basic kitchen. Others need to understand a meal is more than a single dish.
All need to master the basics: learning to sharpen and handle a knife, how to test a steak for doneness.
"Maybe the hardest lesson is learning to trust your intuition," Raichlen said. "How to season food to your particular taste. The part of cooking that flows from your heart — that has less to do with science than art."
"Incidentally, one way I get guys cooking is to call for the sort of tools we intrinsically like to play with: knives, cleavers, immersion blenders, smoking guns, blowtorches — culinary power tools that guys love and of which women are often wary," he said.
Finger-Burner Lamb Chops
The name says it all — scottadito. That’s Italian for “finger burner” — an apt description of lamb chops served so hot they scorch your fingers when you dig in. As with all great meat cooked on the bone, these chops taste best eaten with your bare hands, so ask the butcher to “french” the bones (scrape the meat clean off the last 2 or 3 inches of bone). In keeping with the dish’s Italian origins, the seasonings are pretty simple: rosemary, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. I like to pump up the burn factor with hot pepper flakes.
Shop: You need lamb rib chops for this dish, the smaller the better. (Some people call them lamb lollipops.)
Gear: Your basic kitchen gear includes a baking sheet and a 12-by-18-inch piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
What else: Tradition calls for grilling the scottadito over live wood or charcoal fire, but you can also cook the chops in a large (10- to 12-inch) cast-iron skillet or a plancha or under a broiler. Incidentally, these simple flavorful seasonings go great with virtually any grilled meat, poultry or seafood. For heightened drama, make a basting brush with a bunch of fresh rosemary and use it for basting the lamb.
Time: About 20 minutes for marinating the lamb, plus 6 to 8 minutes cooking time.
2½ pounds small lamb rib chops, cut ½ inch thick
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and cracked or freshly ground black peppercorns
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, depending on the cooking method
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Arrange the lamb chops in a single layer on a baking sheet. Generously season the chops on one side with salt and pepper and half of the hot pepper flakes, minced garlic, and rosemary. Drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil over the chops and pat the ingredients onto the meat with your fingertips. Turn the chops and repeat on the second side. Let the chops marinate in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
2. Heat one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet or on a plancha over high heat until shimmering. Add the lamb chops in a single layer (work in batches as needed) and cook until well-browned on the bottom, about three minutes. Turn the chops over and cook until well-browned and the meat is cooked through or to taste, about three minutes for medium.
3 Place the chops on a platter and encourage everyone to pick them up and eat the meat straight from the bone. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing and plenty of napkins.
— "Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook For Guys" by Steven Raichlen
If you go ...
What: Steven Raichlen book signing
When: Saturday, May 17, 1 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.