Chefs, Pitmasters, and Personalities

Food Dude: Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan and Samin Nosrat Preparing for a Pig Roast

Welcome back to our latest series on—Food Dudes—featuring interviews with the movers and shakers of the food world, excerpted from Man Made Meals: The Essential Cookbook for Guys.

Today we bring you Michael Pollan, a food activist, journalist, and bestselling author whose books, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, and In Defense of Food, have revolutionized the way Americans think about food. What you may not realize is that Pollan is a man obsessed by live-fire cooking and he devotes the first chapter of his most recent book, Cooked, to the art and history of barbecue.

“Cooking is still largely a woman’s responsibility,” Pollan observes. “Men need to step up to the plate.” (According to Pollan, just 13 percent of our meals eaten at home are cooked by men.) “With an increasing number of women in the workforce, if men don’t cook more, our kids risk never knowing what a home-cooked meal is. Sure, we men grill, but we shouldn’t be intimidated by pots and pans in the kitchen. We need to cook more—for our personal well-being and for the health of our marriages, our kids, and our planet.” Amen.

Name three techniques every guy should master.
Grilling (but I don’t have to tell you that): You invest money in buying tender premium cuts of meat and seafood, but you save on time. The cooking time for direct grilling is measured in minutes, not hours.

Braising: This means cooking larger, tougher cuts of meat with liquid in a sealed pot at a low temperature for a long time. You invest time (three to four hours of cooking time, although your active participation is much less than that), but you save money, as braising is designed to make cheap cuts of meat tender.

Cooking pasta: The secret is to use lots of water and plenty of salt and boil the pasta just long enough so it’s tender. Basically, if you can boil water, you can cook pasta. One of my favorite side dishes is pasta tossed with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt.

What three dishes should every guy know how to make?
Pork shoulder: Thanks to its generous marbling of fat there’s no more forgiving cut of meat. It’s virtually impossible to overcook a pork shoulder. Of course, if you’re a devout Jew or Muslim you’d pick a lamb shoulder or another large cut of meat.

Grilled salmon: I like it Greek style, marinated with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and fresh herbs. To make a sauce, whirl olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs from the garden in a blender.

Pasta with clam sauce: Steam and shell the clams. Make the sauce with the cooking liquid, adding wine, garlic, tomatoes, and oregano. Cook the pasta al dente and finish it in the sauce. It’s as simple as that.

Name three kitchen tools you can’t live without.
Again, Steven, I don’t have to tell you: my grill. I use it year-round.

A cast-iron skillet: I use one daily.

Tongs: One of those great inventions that didn’t seem to be available to home cooks when I was growing up.

What are the three things to keep in mind if you’re just starting out in the kitchen?
Pay attention to where your food comes from. I won’t buy meat unless it’s grass-fed or pastured and ideally raised within a 150-mile radius of my home. Buy local first, then organic. If the ingredient list on the package has a lot of polysyllabic chemicals you’re not familiar with or can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.

Make friends with your butcher, fishmonger, produce man, and cheese vendor. Ask what he’s most excited about today and tailor your shopping list and menu accordingly.

Think quality, not quantity. It’s better to eat 4 ounces of local grass-fed beef than a cheap 14-ounce industrially processed steak.

Read the full interview in Man Made Meals.

Man Made Meals by Steven Raichlen