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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Father’s Day gift ideas for the home chef in your family

Marc Bouchard

Twenty years ago, most of the requests I received for cooking tips came from women. Today, these same queries are just as likely to be from men, of all ages.

Cooking has truly become this era’s most popular
gender-neutral activity– which means, cooking supplies make great Father’s Day gifts. It’s also true that men gravitate heavily toward outdoors cooking, particularly in the summer. So tools geared toward grilling are always a great idea. But they’re not the only option. ...

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Twenty years ago, most of the requests I received for cooking tips came from women. Today, these same queries are just as likely to be from men, of all ages.

Cooking has truly become this era’s most popular
gender-neutral activity– which means, cooking supplies make great Father’s Day gifts. It’s also true that men gravitate heavily toward outdoors cooking, particularly in the summer. So tools geared toward grilling are always a great idea. But they’re not the only option.

n If Dad enjoys Southern-style barbecue, my first choice for a gift would be a smoker. Sure, you can “smoke” foods in a regular charcoal or gas grill, but it’s not the same.

There are three things I would look for in a smoker: They must be front-loading (top loaders are a pain); they must have a built-in thermometer; and whether they are gas or electric, they should have an adjustable thermostat for almost-precise temperature control.

n If you can’t cut it, you can’t cook it! Yet I’m amazed how many folks are still using dime-store knives. You don’t need an entire set of knives, just one really, really good one. We’ve been using a Wusthof Classic Ikon 10-inch Chef’s Knife in our household for years, and the blade is in perfect shape, while the handle fits my hand like a glove. It’s not cheap ($150-$199), but I’ve had it for 12 years and I don’t expect to need a new one for another 12. ’Nuff said!

n I can’t tell you how many men I’ve met whose eyes light up when describing the amazing braised dishes they’ve created in their cast iron Dutch Ovens. These pots are all-purpose: During the summer, you can simmer the beans that will accompany your barbecue, and in the winter, you can make incredible stews. The gold standard is always the Le Creuset line of enameled wares, but at an extravagant price. There are reasonable facsimiles available under the Tramontina brand, or you can opt for the American-made Lodge pots. Remember, these pots last a lifetime, so pick one that you wouldn’t mind inheriting. Just don’t get anything smaller than five quarts.

n If Dad enjoys barbecuing, he’ll need cast iron pans for searing, blackening and for making the cornbread. Want to get Dad something worth boasting about? Look online (eBay is a the place to start) for Griswold cast iron pans and pots. The Griswold Co. went out of business in 1957, but because they never die, there are still thousands of these top-of-the-line antique pots on the market. Connoisseurs claim they cook and handle much better than modern pans. Plus, they will continue to appreciate in value.

n Maybe Dad already has all the tools he needs. But has he ever tasted a Piemontese Ribeye steak, or a Kobe Strip, or a rack of Berkshire Ribs? We are talking about the best meat money can buy. Yes, money is a factor here, and none of these come cheap. But hey, it’s Father’s Day! My favorite source is Fossil Farms (fossilfarms.com). They not only carry an amazing range of exotic meats, but some attractive mixed boxes (look under package specials).

For Father’s Day dinner, how about a grilled menu with the emphasis on seasonal and fresh?

The protein is salmon; it’s always available fresh in our region, and it grills beautifully. We’ll use a modest amount of small vegetables, simply tossed with olive oil and lemon.

The real surprise is a bright green sauce made from – are you ready? – lettuce. If you’re lucky, you can use farm-grown, local lettuce. Not only is the sauce attractive, but it has a seductively herbaceous flavor, and it’s really easy to make.Trust me, Dad will want the recipe.

GRILLED SALMON WITH LETTUCE SAUCE

½ head of washed Greenleaf
or Bibb lettuce

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1½ cup heavy cream

pinch nutmeg

½ lemon cut into 4 wedges

68 pieces fingerling potatoes

4 broccoli fleurettes

4 slices fennel bulb

4 slices Vidalia onion

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 6-8 oz. filets of fresh
salmon

2 sprigs of fennel greens

salt

pepper

To prepare: Slice lettuce leaves into two-inch ribbons. Saute them, along with the butter and a pinch each of salt and pepper, in a hot skillet until the leaves no longer release any liquid, about 3-5 minutes. Add one cup of cream and the nutmeg and simmer over medium-low heat for five minutes. Add remaining cream and cook two more minutes. Set pan aside until room temperature. Puree in a blender until smooth. Add juice of one lemon wedge. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Cook fingerling potatoes and broccoli in boiling water until tender. Drain.

To serve: Add olive oil to a large (12- to 14-inch) saute pan. When hot, add fennel and onion, along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until lightly browned on the outside but still crisp, about five minutes. Add broccoli, potatoes and one lemon wedge, toss and cook 3-4 minutes. Taste and season. Warm lettuce sauce over low heat.

Preheat a wood or gas grill. Make sure the grates are clean and lightly oiled. Pat all surfaces of salmon dry with a paper towel and season with salt, pepper and a light spray of oil. Carefully position filets skin side down on the hottest part of the grill. Watch salmon carefully; if fish begins to darken too quickly, simply slide filet to a cooler side of the grill. Cook on both sides until done to your liking. Remember that salmon remains moist, and subsequently tastes best, when cooked no more than medium.

Spoon some of the lettuce sauce onto a large plate. Place a salmon filet on top of sauce, and arrange some of the sauteed vegetables around the edges. Do not crowd the plate. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and lemon wedges. Serves two.

Marc Bouchard, of Hudson, is executive chef at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, Mass. Reach him c/o Encore, The Telegraph, 17 Executive Drive, Hudson, NH 03051.