Magazine article The Spectator

Male Preserve

Magazine article The Spectator

Male Preserve

Article excerpt

What passes for summer is finally upon us in the British Isles. Between bouts of rain, we can finally inhale the sun-tan oil, note that last year's swimsuit seems to have shrunk over the winter and fire up the barbecue. Cooking outdoors connects us to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and, while the Oxford Culinary Conference undoubtedly has views on who once tended the cave's fire, the barbecue today is a male preserve. The mittens and apron, the lengthy spatula and prongs, the double ginand-tonic: these are the couture, jewellery and perfume which compensate the cooking male for the fact that he is no longer fit to be seen near-naked in the sea or at poolside.

Unfortunately, the modern Neanderthal tends to make a mess of the food itself.

Outdoor male meat can invariably be identified by its blackened exterior and its dryness. To compensate, gendered meat is then encased in a bun, slathered with gooey pickle preserves or sugary tomato ketchup. The Oxford Conference probably has discussed the historical origins of this gastronomic horror; these can be traced back, briefly, to the St Louis World's Fair of 1904, when and where the modern hamburger was born.

The first remedy lies in the proper kit. The most important element of the barbecue is its hood. This is because the essential principle of good barbecuing is that fatty meat is exposed to high heat; the fat is rendered from the meat, drips on to the coals and vaporises; this vapour then permeates and moisturises the meat. To make this process work, the hood should be thick enough to retain the heat and should remain closed once the meat is seared.

In barbecuing, it's best to think as the Greeks did about penises: small is potent.

The coals can do their work only if the volume of air is small. For this reason, when giving a party for many people, I prefer to work with two or three hibachis (small, inexpensive, Japanese barbecues) rather than one monster grill; if you've shelled out for one of these mastodons, however, be sure to fill it with more charcoal than the healthand-safety directions recommend.

There's one further trick to infusing moistness into meat. Hot spices tend to give the human palate the illusion that meat is moist, even when it is in fact dry. …

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