Carnivorous And Proud Of It

Away with your salads and tofu! Anu Lakhan defends the pleasures of flesh


I know too many vegetarians. Even in the Caribbean, where meat has never gone out of fashion, I’d begun to feel a bit vulnerable.

For me, meat isn’t one of the four basic food groups; it is the point of the meal. Everything else – sauces, salads, things made with flour – is garnish. And I, for one, am never quite convinced that decorations are meant to be eaten. Why does everything else pale in comparison to the rich, glistening red of a rare filet mignon? Was I, in fact, raised by wolves? Meat, real meat, is deeply satisfying in a way that no vegetable can ever be. Sure, vegetables have that pure, clean feel to them: thin, mild, gentle flavours that make you feel thin, mild, and gentle. But meat is robust food. It is muscle and sinew and, yes, fat. There are bones, there is blood, there are intestines, and all manner of unmentionable parts. And it’s all really, really good.

Of course, one hardly speaks of such things nowadays. It seems sometimes that meat has taken on the taint money picked up a while back. Remember Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street? He delivered a little speech that turned the stomachs of every anti-capitalist. It went something like this: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed works.”The problem wasn’t just that he was a rich man, or even that his riches were got at the expense of the anonymous less fortunate – it was his unapologetic admission that money did it for him.

And so it goes with meat. No one wants to hear about that chicken that baked so slowly it fell apart in your hands when you tried to lift it off the tray. No one remembers the time when hamburgers were made with real ground meat, not styrofoam, and were hardly worth eating if they weren’t smoky and scored with grill marks and oozing juices. Who, now, of the tofu- and yoghurt-eating classes, recalls with appreciation the chicken soups, stews, eggs, and fish-heads that got them through childhood? To admit a love of flesh is to say to the world, “Hello, I have clogged arteries, a slow digestive system, and am prone to random acts of aggression.”

Well, if that’s what you hear when I say that I love the sound a piece of meat makes when it encounters heat, then so be it. Try getting a squash to sizzle and hiss. I challenge any fruit to rival the sweetness of well-cured bacon, any leaf to achieve the subtle delicacy of an oyster.

Now, I know that vegetables are not without redeeming qualities. I think I have a fine aesthetic appreciation of their looks. Who can deny the somewhat flamboyant beauty of rows of tomatoes, avocados, sweet peppers, heaps of carrots and lettuces, or the opulent golden flesh of a pumpkin just cut, such as one may glimpse at any roadside greengrocer’s? They are tempting. You are beguiled. You take them home. No one can blame you. Your error is a common one. You try to put to practical use something that was bought merely for its beautiful appearance. What vegetable – frail and composed mostly of water as they tend to be – can stand up to the fierce demands of cooking? They wilt. The breathtaking colour drains away, and you are left with something insipid at best. How to justify this? Say it is good for you.

Meat, on the other hand, looks even better for the gruelling acts performed upon it. It is beautiful hanging on a butcher’s hook: glistening and cool. The infinite neat lines of the grain of the cut – strong and dependable. You know that it can stand up to whatever you have in mind. And if your appetite for flesh is insatiable, you’re probably also a purist. One meat at a time is best. “Surf and turf”was obviously invented by someone lacking in patience or imagination; and there’s a special circle in hell reserved for makers of the Cajun turducken, that atrocity of a whole turkey stuffed with a whole duck stuffed with a whole chicken.

Meat likes its independence and takes well to minimalist treatment. A little coarse salt, some ground pepper, and fire. The Caribbean is a wonderful place for zesty seasonings and spices – but every flavour doesn’t have to be rubbed into every fold of flesh in preparation for cooking. Love your meat. Allow it to be itself.

I know too well the hopelessness of all my arguments. You are shaking your head; I am a lost cause; I probably think the earth is flat. You will go on with your soy products and melongene casseroles. You will live forever, and scurvy will be my lot.

But do not despair for me: in spite of my carnivorous ranting, I have long suspected that I know the location of the bridge that could lead me from certain early-cholesterol demise to . . . well, whatever’s on the other side. A friend once described it as an honorary meat, and I am hard pressed to imagine higher praise for something that comes out of the ground: the mushroom.

In an attempt to prove the existence of this bridge, the recipe to the right keeps the meat simple and true to itself, but attempts to suppress caveman behaviour with a nice fruit-derived sauce.

RECIPE: LAMB WITH CARAMBOLA

4 lamb chops (medium-size)
2 tablespoons honey
1 heaped tablespoon crushed garlic
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
salt and pepper to taste 

(There will be no instructions about what you should do with any fat found on your chops. I’m a bit put out when a recipe tells me to trim the fat off a cut of meat. All? Just the outer rim? In some recipes it seems safe to treat fat like salt: by all means, be open to suggestion, but ultimately rely on your own taste to determine exact measurement.)

(Size is another thing. It seems wishful thinking to assume that “medium-size”means the same thing in all places. By “medium-size chop”, I am thinking of something roughly the size of, say, an Agatha Christie paperback.)

Sprinkle the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Mix the honey, garlic, and Hoisin sauce into a marinade. The longer the lamb spends in the company of this mixture, the better. A couple days would be heavenly, but an hour or two will do nicely as well.

Grill for about 20 minutes (more or less, depending on how you like your meat).

FOR THE CARAMBOLA SAUCE:

4 carambolas (five-fingers)
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tbs water
1/2 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon chadon beni
salt to taste

The carambola, or five-finger fruit, has a mild but sweet taste, and a thinnish skin. Remove the skin and extract the juice (blender, food-processor, hands, whatever). Strain to remove pulp and seeds. Put the juice in a saucepan, and set on a low heat. Add honey and salt. When the mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat, and add the cornstarch. Check for desired thickness, and add garlic and chadon beni. Works as a warm sauce, but better cold.