Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stout-hearted men

stout sauce

I'm normally not one to take a gender essentialist view of food, but it's hard to think of a more butch pairing than steak and beer.

Now, breaking food down on gender lines is pretty stupid to me: who says women can't enjoy a big greasy burger, or that real men don't eat quiche? Well, society; the same society that sets the standards for men and women are to look and act also tells us how and what we eat through the way food is represented, whether we're laughing alone with salad or scarfing down coronary-inducing greasebombs from Burger King as a way of asserting our manly bona fides.

As a relatively rare entity in the foodblogosphere (a straight male food blogger), it's interesting to see these same social dynamics play out in this realm. Scan the food blog aggregators on any given day and the chances are pretty good that the majority of posts will be (a) written by a woman and (b) about dessert (reaffirming the myth of the female sweet tooth). I'll wager the gender gap is just as huge when you look at mainstream food media (in spite of the fact that restaurants and high-end cooking remain a male-dominated preserve). As a man, I can't say I've ever felt weird about my prescnce in this female realm, but then men seem to have a much easier time crossing back and forth across these barriers (membership in the patriarchy, it seems, has its privileges). Of course I'd be lying if I said all the baggage about food and masculinity did not creep into my cooking choices, and I am very conscious of my status as a bit of an anomaly in the food blog world.

What's it about? Is it simply that these gender performances are so deeply rooted as to be nigh inescapable? Or can the female dominance in food blogs be seen as part of the same reclamation and reinterpretation of traditional Suzy Homemaker tropes that has also manifested itself through knitting and other DIY crafts? If the latter, it'd be interesting to see some more politics at the dinner table, as it were. Unless, of course, I am just late to the party, this whole "new domesticity" debate having already played itself out back in 2005 or so. Ladies, if you're out there: what do you think?
Now then, back to the meat of the matter. This recipe takes steak and Guinness out of the meat pie at the pub and into the bistro. I had the luxury of trying it twice in the span of a few days, once using the original recipe and later adding my own interpretation, so I have a basis for comparison. The original is mighty salty, while my take is slightly sweet: one for boys and one for girls, I guess...

Steak with Stout pan sauce - adapted from Bon Appetit
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, divided
2 12-ounce new york strip steaks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup low-salt beef broth
1/2 cup Guinness
1 tablespoon (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Spread 1 teaspoon mustard over steaks; sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook meat about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to plate; tent with foil and set aside to rest.

Meanwhile, mash butter and flour in small bowl and set aside. Add garlic to skillet sauté 15 to 20 seconds. Add broth; bring to boil, scraping up pan leavings. Whisk in stout, brown sugar, butter mixture, pepper and remaining mustard. Boil until slightly thickened and reduced to 2/3 cup, 2 to 3 minutes. Thinly slice steaks; divide among plates. Drizzle with sauce and serve.


  1. Big topic, lots that can be said. But rambling quickly...
    I think a lot of women like baking because it can be perfected. Once you've worked out the science of your particular ingredients and kitchen, you can yield constant, perfect results that win praise. It's a task to be accomplished. It's like getting an A in school for being a diligent student.
    Cooking with flesh and heat and uncertainty involves more risk. But risky moves can show brilliance when done well. And there's more room to move because you don't have to follow a science. I think men (playing the gender game) like that. It's more fight-or-flight. I think men do better in that realm (traditionally).
    I think more women blog because they like the community aspect. Likes and comments can feel like gold stars. They're warm fuzzies and I think girls like warm fuzzies.
    You also have to be okay with the idea that nobody might read about your cooking success. I don't think the warm fuzzies of blogging are as appealing to men.

    But then this doesn't take into consideration those that blog to write, not just announce. Politics for a future dinner.

  2. I wonder if there isn't more debate about women dominating the food blogosphere because blogging is seen as an amateur activity. Women, as you note, are cooks, while men are chefs. Anyone who writes a food blog is a generally seen as an amateur cook and not a chef. As such, women blogging about food fits nicely within the confines of the gendering of cooking and eating.

    Why then is most food media dominated by women (think Ruth Reichl, MFK Fisher etc.)? Again, because most cooking in homes takes place by women and the people writing recipes for and wanting to read and learn more about food at that level are women.

    So, perhaps the real question is: Why Are There No Great Male Food Bloggers? Except you, of course :)

  3. I like baking because I feel like it is an art. It's very physical and I don't use mixers or other appliances. It doesn't matter if it is bread or pizza crust or a decadent beet chocolate cake (oh yeah!). Your dough can be off, your timing can be off - you work to improve the recipes. Fair enough - maybe I like control... and sugar ain't my enemy.

    Meat is a bit like roulette - a quick spin and either you got it or you don't. Plus there is a violence and a danger to it - aside from my jams I never worry about poisoning people.

    In my house, food is a competition. I try out my recipes and test them on my mate. Mostly meat free - while he works up the perfect steak or burger. Perhaps a reinterpretation of the hunter gatherer family?

    I suspect people blog about food because they seek to please. They want to share their expertise; plant seeds.

    ... that and they are bloody sick of chicken, rice and green beans.