In the years of our lord, back in the 80's somewhere I announced stubbornly to my family that I was "becoming" vegetarian. It was hip and left wing at the time and Paul Weller was vegetarian and, at age 14, I was in love with him so I reckoned if I stopped eating animals, he might find me (perhaps a bit older, ahem) and fall in love with me too, simple. My Mother sensibly responed by telling me I could cook my own food and years of eating potato and tomato pie with cheese, tins of tuna and salmon steaks ensued, fish is a vegetable in case you didn't know.
In Ireland in the 80's there were no vegetables. Even though garlic is a very happy alium in Irish soil, it was almost unheard of, so much so that a boy in my class was once sent home from school for smelling of it, and offending our plebian olifactories. Broccoli was new and exotic and the appearance of expensive aubergines and courgettes resulted in the 'ratatouille years' which are best left unmentioned. Cheese as we not know it didn't exist as Irish farmers hadn't had the rug pulled out from under them with milk levys which forced them to pour their excess milk into the fields. (Clever farmers took cheese-making courses and we now are now one of the most enviable cheese producing nations in the world). The diet of the Irish vegetarian was bland, boring and full of torment from older brothers salivating into their lasagne and beef curries next to me. As least my brother wasn't always trying to steal my food any more. Sometimes I would eat an Irish stew with the meat strained from the (meat flavoured) sauce or have an egg fried in the bacony fat in the pan.
Christmas was a particularly challenging time. Turkey I can leave but the ham, the glorious ham, god that nearly killed me. I think I made some kind of nut roast, or attempted to but you couldn't get edible chestnuts in Ireland at the time. A trip to the People's Park to collect conkers and open them was a pen-knife was fruitless, and nutless, and nuts. I endured my Christmas dinner, no doubt wearing a Morrisey T-shirt (over a polo neck in case I catch cold) and sulking into my potato croquette, doused in turkey gravy. Watching everyone tuck into the ham was hard, no, it was torture. It's lovely pinkiness, all piggy and salty, the orangey breadcrumbs on the outside as my dad expertly carved and handed it round, big crumbly slices of it, just the way I loved it. I liked the slightly overcooked bit from the outside the most, all stringy and a bit crunchy. God, the pain. Post-dinner, when all were snoozing and drooling into their empty trifle bowls I figured I could sneak into the place where the ham was kept and burrow a big hole that no-one would notice, into the side of the meat. I think I ate like a hungry Cambodian, who were the most famous hungry people at the time, furiously tunnelling a cavern with my small socialist fingers into the salty meatness. Ah the taste, the relief. My Dad would marvel later that he thought there was a mouse in the ham, I would harrumph into my headphones and turn up the Style Council on the record player.
I finally threw in the herbivoruous towel some years later, age 18 when in London. I was looking for a job and I hadn't found a job and heaven knew I was miserable then. So I thought "What difference does it make to the world if I had a burger", so I did, in a wholemeal bun, and loved every bite. Then I found a job and went home to celebrate by cooking rashers, sausages and planning many, many meaty meals and lasagnes and beef curries.
For those of you who have stayed the vegetarian course, and who eat fish, (which isn't a vegetable, by the way) here is a fine recipe that's good enough for any Christmas plate and wouldn't taste good covered in Turkey gravy at all. Buy good, organic or wild salmon, it is Christmas after all.
Get your Salmon
In a frying pan, heat a little olive oil and a knob of butter until it is good and hot. Season the salmon on both sides lightly and put, skin side down, into the pan. Press it down with a fish slice (egg-lifter).
Meanwhile, chop a clove of garlic and half a red chilli
Turn the fish over when the opaqueness starts to come through. Throw the veggie bits onto the pan and cook for a further 4-5 mins depending on the thickness of your fish, spoon the juices over the fish, chef stylie. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and remove the fish from the pan, let the juices bubble up for a minute and spoon this over the fish with all the sticky garlic and chili bits. Serve with your other Christmas dinner bits or just have with some salad and home made wedges.
Have a good one!