Until this time last year I had been a vegetarian for 21 years, from the age of 5. My reasons for being so for such a long time were numerous- foremost among them sensitivity to the act of consuming another animal, and a growing (as I got older) dislike for the volume of animals killed in the pursuit of keeping us fed.
Being a vegetarian from such a young age meant I’d had to learn to cook quite early on, and unlike a lot of vegetarians who can’t ever contemplate consuming anything from an animal, I’d always had a strong notion that I’d like meat were I to ever dispense with my principles. I had no problem cooking it when I was a vegetarian. I was interested in it, as I was cooking in general; in the process, the science, even the act of hunting it. And I was right. I did like it, though I do think some meat is vastly overrated: Steak, for instance. I’ve probably had steak 10 times, mostly in good quality restaurants and steakhouses, and generally I’m a little disappointed. I think I probably expect too much- I’d spent my entire life listening to people wax endlessly about the life-affirming, ball-toughening qualities of a rare-to-medium-rare 8 ounces. Most times I’ve found it pretty boring.
But there are some dishes and foods that cannot be touched nor replicated for a vegetarian tongue, no matter how much soy sauce, lemon or chilli you chuck at them. Of course, with a lot of these it’s the bells and whistles that go with them, or the cooking process. But then isn’t it always?
Anyway, enough analysis, here’s my top 5 favourite meat dishes since becoming a carnivore, in no particular order (other than the first one).
1: Chorizo (and all cured pork).
Last summer I got fat for the first time in my life, and I blame it almost exclusively on the packets of chorizo I took to snacking on. I’d always loved Deli’s for their array of cheeses and pickled goods that tickled the furthest reaches of a vege palette that demanded spice and salt and tang at every turn. Now they have become my nemesis as I press my nose against the glass, aware that I can’t buy something porky and salty for the seventh time that day. Chorizo is my favourite for the spice factor, but you can also include Prosciutto, Pepperoni, Pancetta, Serrano and the rest in this. A trip to Northern Spain last Winter nearly brought tears to my eyes- a cut of baguette, slice of Serrano, anchovy, sliver of Manchego and a sundried tomato in a Santander bar is surely the place where culinary dreams are made flesh.
2: Smoked Ribs
Smoked ribs when they’re done badly are awful- sloppy, stringy and enough fat to plug the arteries of the cleanest-living sportsman. But when they are done right, and they are burnt and charred and covered in something containing chipotle they make me curse the days I used to turn up to smoke-houses and order a vege-burger, and then finish off the heathen’s chips whilst they gnawed away at the edges of blackened bone.
These were actually the first meat I ate last year; they might have popped my carnivorous cherry, but they took me a few goes before I started to get much pleasure from them.
It was the texture; even though they looked like Haribo they were too much like tendons. I didn’t like the way you’d pull them apart and little white strands would stayed connected to the other side. I imagined it was what would happen if you split a human leg, and I didn’t/don't like eating human legs.
Fortunately, I kept trying them and eventually realised that they are the sort of food God decided to bestow on us to balance out Pot Noodles. A little bit meaty, a little bit fishy, they have a subtlety that doesn’t fit in anywhere on a vegetarian menu. They also don’t make me feel bad about eating loads as they are good for you and not fatty, though I normally negate that by deep-frying them with shitloads of salt and chilli or slathering them in garlic butter. Who cares? Fucking amazing.
4: Lambchops (large)
Taken by itself and eaten alone, it seems that lamb is the most flavourful of all meats, whichever way you cook it. There’s just one major problem with it though- there’s never enough of the stuff. Curse their cute little undeveloped bodies! I have taken to circumventing this by always ensuring I buy the largest chops possible. Smack them in a pan with some butter and onions and you have the sort of meal that would make their mothers proud.
As an aside, grilled lamb of the sort you get in decent Turkish places, is incredible. It makes me want to go back to Turkey, and I’ve already been there enough times to know I don’t like it very much.
This makes me sound like a bit of a ponce (a fair estimation) but lobster really is the crustaceans whiskers. Unlike the disappointment of steak, lobster it up to all the plaudits bestowed. Crumbly, flaky, covered in lemony, it’s a step up from prawns in the flavour stakes. Plus you get to play with your food. Due to a fidgety disposition that can generally only be calmed by regular slugs of Malbec, dinner-tables are often a bit of a nightmare for yours truly. With lobster such issues are dispensed as you pick and prod and scrape inside something else’s head, then fucking eat the results of your exertions. Genius.