Michael Z. Williamson
  • The Manly Way to Cook Meat

    THE MANLY WAY TO COOK MEAT
    Bloody meat
    Since the dawn of time, fire has been an indication of civilization.  It treated flint, steamed wood, cast bronze, smelted iron, burned out peasants for the obligatory sacking and looting, hosted leaders and their war bands before they engaged in the slaughter of squatters or savages, and cooked meat.

    Today, the call of the flame is strong.  Entire industries exist so that pussified office bunnies may feel its comfort, usually imprisoned behind glass and possibly with some frou-frou scented sparkly wax.

    I'm here to tell you what should be obvious:  That's not manly.

    A microwave is acceptable for warming a cup of second-rate coffee or leftover pizza.  A stove or range is okay for soup, vegetables or baking a cake.  For some modern dishes, they do excel.  But they are utilitarian conveniences.

    There comes a time when a man must chop up meat (preferably that he killed and gutted himself with a knife, spear or bow, but rifle fire or a punt gun is certainly an acceptable modern substitute) and apply it to fire, while quaffing ale and mead, insulting his foes (like that nancy-boy Mohammed chap and his boyfriends), scratching, belching and generally fuzzing the line between civilized and barbarous.

    It is time, then, to retreat to the outdoors and cook like a man.

    This is easy, as long as one understands the simple truths.  Fire is fuel and flame.  It doesn't, and shouldn't take a fortune in fancy stainless, digitally controlled hardware to produce it.

    Gas grills:  Gas grills are right out.  If you're the kind of pansy who puts aluminum foil on the mesh of a gas grill to fry your burgers and brats, you're.well, a pansy.  All you've done is move a range outdoors to fry with.  You're probably cooking tofu burgers with bean sprouts. "But, Einar, the instruction say I shouldn't get grease into the carefully fabricated imitation pumice rocks above the gas flames!" you say.  In other words, it's an expensive yuppie-scum wannabe grill, like those "gas fireplaces."  You may as well put your testicles up there and cook them, because you're not using them.

    Perhaps you cook directly over the gas flames, and imagine this is manly.  I take it you either have no tastebuds, or like the taste of partially burned hydrocarbons in your food.  Still, at least you have an actual fire kissing the meat.  It's cooking, but it's like the difference between a methed-up stripper smoking Marlboro Lights and Arnie smoking a cigar.

    Charcoal grills:  Ah, now you're almost there.  Charcoal grills are acceptably manly, if done properly.

    First, no real man cooks with cute little "briquets" (that term just _sounds_ phagadocious, when you say it) of ground coal dust held together with binder and soaked with glorified kerosene.  If you are going to use charcoal, save money, show some class and testosterone, buy a bag of "hardwood charcoal."  It looks like someone chopped up a tree and carbonized it, because that's exactly what it is.  The taste and smell are superior.  It's easier to light and burns better.  I find 20 seconds with an oxy-acetylene torch creates a good, hot core to pile the balance of the fuel on.

    Obviously, the best way to light this fire is with flint and steel, the Viking way.

    But isn't it hard to strike a fire with flint and steel, you ask?  Not at all.  Flint is just a quartzite-a silicaceous rock.  Steel is easy to find.  My preferred method is to chuck a silicon carbide abrasive wheel in my half horsepower drill and run it against an old file.  I get three feet of hot, red sparks.

    Of course, you can make your own charcoal, but the Vikings regarded charcoal as forge fuel.  Proper cooking was done over an actual fire with wood.

    The way this works is to light your tinder, feed it kindling (matchstick sized pieces), then gradually work larger, to a small tepee or log cabin arrangement of sticks.  They don't need to be huge.  This is for cooking, not burning a village before raping the inhabitants (ALWAYS burn first.  It's so much more romantic by firelight).  Thumb-thick is plenty large.  For roasting or searing, just hack off some gobbets of flesh, skewer on a stick, dredge in salt or herbs, and stick into the flames until done.  Alternately, skewer the whole joint or carcass, lay across the fire on iron poles, and slice off the crispy outside as you go.

    Once the fire has burned down to coals, about a foot across and an inch or so thick, the artistic cooking can commence.  Beginners will want a green stick or metal grate to lay meat on, to cook with sizzles.  If fat falls into the fire and creates a burst of flame, don't be a wuss and squirt it out with water.  The gods are gifting you with a fiery seasoning for the meat.

    Ultimately, you will want to try a Viking steak.  Blow the dust off the coals and drop the meat straight on.  It will douse the surface fire and the coals will act as insulation.  As soon as you smell scorching, flip over and cook the other side in the same spot.  It will take fractionally longer.  The proper way to eat this, of course, is to slice bits off with your seax and eat them off the back of your thumb, Viking style.

    Good ways to prepare the meat ahead of time include sprinkling with sea salt, crushed red chilies, pepper and/or crushed garlic.  Appropriate marinades for overnight soaking include teriyaki, Worcestershire, barbecue sauce or hot sauce.  Once the meat is ready, pour off the marinade and use it to sautee squash and carrots first, then mushrooms and onions, in a cast iron pan oiled with butter or olive oil.  Take whole, unhusked ears of corn (this being America, the last bastion of Viking manliness), peel back one side, add a tablespoon of butter and a sprinkling of seasoning salt, close back up and toss into the coals until it smells ready. You'll know when.  Squash and carrots can also be basted with the marinade and laid on the fire/grate until done.  A true master has the vegetable garnish ready just as the meat comes off the fire.

    Shellfish can be tossed directly in the fire. Fish should be grilled, placed skin-on in the flames or planked onto wood and cooked by radiant heat.

    A note on "desired doneness":  Some purists insist a steak must be still bleeding and mooing to be manly.  While it certainly is manly, it's not the only way.  Medium pink is still meat, after all, and well-done is just a sacrifice to Odin, without wasting the leftovers.  He will be honored to know that men are still thinking of him.  Just be aware that chicken and pork MUST be cooked completely to be safe, as must sausages.

    Some of the more manly choices for meat include elk, venison, antelope, ostrich, bear, kangaroo and alligator.  But any animal flesh including fish retains the power and sense of our great ancestors, roasting it on the beach before or after a raid.

    Afterwards is the time to toss on a knot of pine and some wrist-thick scrub to create large, manly flames, illumination for the drinking of ale, mead and whisky, carousing, cursing and boasting that must surely follow.