I am not a vegetarian and I am not a vegan. I am not a pescetarian and I do not follow a paleo diet. Nor do I have any problems with any of the people for whom these are essential parts of their life.
I am an omnivore: I will eat, basically, anything. I am sitting here waiting for a big pile of chicken wings to roast in my oven. I have been marinating them in a huge variety of bits and bobs for most of the morning, and I am looking forward to tucking in to them. Tonight my evening meal will be vegetarian in content; it is normal for me to take such twists and turns. Variety pleases me no end.
Why, then, does this blog have the title it does? I am about to eat a full kilo of fatty meat, soaked in chilli and barbecue sauces. That says very little about considering giving up meat. The fact of the matter is that I am not considering giving up meat; I am simply very bored of cooking and eating it.
I grew up in a world where the meat of the dish was the heart of the dish, and that was that. We had a nicely loose definition of meat, and so I grew up loving offal as much as steak (more on steak in a bit). Nose to tail eating wasn’t a thing at the time, but it makes perfect sense to me now that it is.
The meat I ate when growing up was cooked to the instructions of the day: It was overcooked and it turned in to cotton wool in the mouth. I know people today who miss that method of cooking meat, and the overcooked or tinned veg which went with it. I am not one of those people; I hate that food.
Then I had to cook for myself and I learned how to cook meat. I cooked chicken breasts which were succulent, and a joy to eat. I cooked steaks which were pink in the middle, rather than the previously accepted grey. I have since learned to cook fish without coating the fillets with flour first. Radical.
I became hooked on perfectly cooked meat – preferably in a restaurant, but occasionally managed at home, especially with meat on the bone – and proceeded to gorge on it at every opportunity. Joints of pink, oozing meat, roasted chicken wings, braised ribs, succulent sausages and stewed belly pork became my go to places for meaty goodness and gastronomic perfection. I overdid it, basically.
I once wrote a blog about how I turned to grains when I got bored of simple carbs, and I loved it. What if I feel a similar ennui with perfectly cooked meat? What would I replace all of the meat with?
Cooking meat is hard. Cooking meat badly is very easily, which is why we see it done so frequently. The number of times I have choked on my own saliva when I have watched diced chicken breast being boiled for an hour or so in internet food videos is beyond counting. It’s similar to the number of times I have tried to cook a lamb steak or a duck breast and just missed the mark completely.
When I have bought a big rib of beef for £20 (£50 in a restaurant, and always a joy) and I ruin it, not only have I wasted a lot of money, but I am also deeply disappointed at a great meal missed. Done well you are gorging on a pile of tasty mouthfuls; done badly it is work. A meal should not be work.
Apparently there is also an ethical consideration here, but it is not one which ever crosses my mind. I don’t mind that animals die for my dinner: if we didn’t raise them we would have shoved them out of existence due to our own selfish ignorance. If we can’t make use of it, it ceases to be maintained. I still think that the fact that an animal has died means that we shouldn’t waste the meat we get from them, however. Animals need our respect as much as our continued and extensive husbandry.
My partner and I are very lucky in many regards. One of these is that we have family who farm sheep and who are happy to sell it to us as often as we like. The upshot of this is that we have had access to a lot of really good quality lamb meat, as often as we want. At first I showed this magnificent bounty all of the reverence I could muster, carefully weighing the joints to more accurately work out the cooking times, seasoning to perfection, resting at a perfectly roomy room temperature, and carving big pink slabs of goodness. I would keep this lamb for special occasions; it was not every day food.
Until it was. We bought too much of it, and it started to become more of a routine thing. A batch of Bolognese sauce made with the mince was too fatty and the mince itself took too long to defrost. A pair of chops that I was fearful of overcooking were raw; another pair were stewed beyond belief on top of a pan of rice. Whole joints of lamb were carved in the wrong direction, leaving a messy pile of almost inedible animal carcass. The last time we had a joint of lamb – a formerly celebratory meal – it felt like a chore having to make my way through this plate of meat. It was like I wasn’t eating it.
I have always taken the view that quality, not quantity, is the most important thing when buying food. And then I have piled my plate high with poor quality meat because I enjoy eating meat so much. The huge pile of wings I ate earlier left me feeling sad, covered in grease and sick of the spices I had marinated the wings in. That’s not how some of my favourite food should leave me feeling.
A few years ago I realised that I had eaten too much sushi, and that I had sickened myself of it. With the odd exception of a bento box picked up at a train station I haven’t touched the stuff in a very long time. Right now, as a consequence, I would very happily sit myself at a sushi conveyor belt and not stand up for a considerable amount of time. Or is that no different from a huge wings buffet?
I understand that moderation is the key to all things, and that it is the path to contentment. What I need to do is to take some time off from meat, so that I can get my meaty mojo back. I need to stress and panic less about the meat I am cooking, so that I have a better chance of cooking it a lot better. And most importantly, I have to stop filling my plate with huge piles of meat; I don’t want it.