i was a vegetarian.
there, i said it.
not quite sure how this came about. i think partly it must have had something to do with the meat we ate at home. most of it had never seen a plastic tray in a supermarket, or a cellophane wrap. there was no disguising what it was. nose to tail eating was just what you did. and it wasn't that you got soft, pillowy ravioli made out of calf's head, beautifully dressed with some fruity olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar: you got a calf's head on a plate, probably with its eyes still in place. i exaggerate, of course, but it's definitely the case that everything got eaten and, as a result, the chances of getting something gristly and fatty on your plate were higher.
also, we just ate a lot of meat. looking back it seems extraordinary that for most of the winter, our breakfast (always made by dad) would be slices of bread, sometimes lightly toasted, with thinly sliced cured pancetta on top. it would have to be paper thin, otherwise i wouldn't eat it. not having meat for your main meal and eating something like polenta with creme fraiche was more unusual than finding unidentifiable bits of pork in aspic slowly cooling to a firm wobble on the kitchen windowsill.
you can see how tofu has a certain appeal after this.
so i naturally gravitated towards meats that aren't very gristly, like chicken, or where i could visually assess the situation and despatch the bits i didn't like with surgical precision. and it's a short hop from a chicken or a bit of ham to not eating meat at all.
the final leap happened when i moved to the UK and ended up in a house full of hippies in liverpool. they were all artistes, in the loosest sense of the word possible, who smoked mountains of dope and were all vegetarian (of course). militant vegetarian too, the kind who wouldn't let anyone keep meat in the shared fridge. i thought them all faintly ridiculous and, when they went to college during the day, i sat around, read newspapers (sarajevo on the front pages for months on end), smoked fags, listened to nick drake, and wondered if i'd had a lobotomy but somehow just didn't notice it. i ate what they ate which, considering how poor we all were, wouldn't have been much. there was a lot of toast and jam, and a lot of tea.
by the time i was a student at nottingham a year later, i had already lapsed. though i probably still claimed to be a veggie of sorts, and the bulk of my diet would have been bean curries and such like, i was buying smoked bacon to be stirred into pasta with some pesto sauce thinned with yoghurt, or baked into potatoes with cheese. there was probably also mince, and chicken breasts. i don't think i knew how to cook anything else anyway.
i had another bout of vegetarianism in my mid to late twenties, brought on by a short-lived infatuation with someone who liked taking a moral high ground about many things, including food. it didn't last long.
now, i could write a pig eulogy, including the wobbly aspic part. a return to my roots, of sorts.
we were going to stick to sausages and chicken wings for the party. it's safe food for this kind of event - stuff you can eat with your hands while standing in the kitchen. then i saw a recipe for a slow roast pork covered with chilli and chocolate and i was sold.
the recipe is basically this http://www.urbanjunkies.com/london/09/0407-eat-01.html with a few variations. we decreased the cinnamon and increased the cooking time, as our joint was bigger. also, we had kashmiri chillies which are probably less hot than the ancho ones - but we used about twice the amount. we also used grated 100% chocolate but you can just use cocoa powder. i am, of course, a sucker for new things so when i saw the thick circles of 100% chocolate being sold in a supermarket, i had to have one. but beyond having a hot chocolate to drink, i couldn't really think of anything else to do with them, having given up cakes. this was perfect - and i am saving the rest for a repeat of this recipe.
it was tasty, in a way that slow roast meats are - moist and easy to pull off the bone. you could barely taste the chocolate or the chilli - they just gave it a bit of a spicy whiff. so, though it sounds scary, it wasn't.
ROAST PORK WITH CHOCOLATE AND CHILLI
1 bone-in shoulder of pork, 3 or 3.5kg (ask your butcher to trim the excess fat)
6 kashmiri chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes and finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 stick of cinnamon (5cm)
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp salt
6 tsp grated 100% chocolate
preheat the oven to 140C.
toast all the spices in a dry frying pan till fragrant. it probably takes around 4 minutes but be careful that they don't burn. grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar, before adding the garlic and the chilli. mix with enough olive oil to form a paste, and stir in the chocolate and the salt.
rub all over the pork. place the joint in a roasting dish and cover tightly with foil (or cook it in a lidded pot though i'd be surprised if you had one large enough). cook for around 5 hours.