John Dory with Bok Choi – Thumbs up for St. Peter.

They say that as one gets older, one tends to reminisce about better times in the years gone by. The summers were always sunnier, the fashions more fashionable and the food tastier.

Perhaps when I am at the stage where my last few friends will visit me to wheel my bath chair into the morning sun, I may begin to think this way. But, today, I still have my faculties (if not my follicles) so I know how much better things are now than back then.

Let me take you back to a time just over 30 years ago. I had my first job, working for a publisher out of a dingy office on the third floor (fourth floor to you Americans, artist’s garret to you romantics) beside Larry Murphy’s Pub on Dublin’s Baggot Street. Apart from my main job of selling subscriptions to a computer magazine, and selling copies of the ill-fated Guide to Dublin Pubs, I was repeatedly dispatched to the bar next door to get gin and tonics for important business meetings held behind the closed doors of the boss’s office. My involvement no more than delivering the full and taking away the empty. These mysterious meetings were often ribald, loud and boisterous affairs – a definite change to how we do it today.

Lunchtime was a chance to escape the madness, an opportunity to buy a sandwich and to dine al fresco. I would often spend my break sitting in Merrion Square showing off my long curly hair and wide lapeled suit with waistcoat (vest to ye Americans) and heavily flared pants. The takeaway choice on my part of Baggot Street back then was limited to a sandwich from one of two outlets. The range was pretty awesome. One could have any combination of brown or white bread with ham, cheese and lettuce also in any combination.

Side note 1: I make that 12 sandwich options open to you assuming you don’t have a lettuce sandwich (either white or brown). Why would you do that?

The difference between the two outlets being that one served pre-made and the other, a newsagent run by two kind old dears, made to order. In the latter, the seal of quality and freshness that would inevitably be left by the old maid making one’s lunch was a big thumb-print in the centre of the sandwich where she pressed down while cutting the bread. This accentuated by the shadow of newsprint that every newsagent had on their hands back then. Imagine eating food with a big black thumbprint! Have we moved along at all in over 30 years?

Here’s most of what you will need. I always forget something. The flour!

I suspect not because last evening, I cooked fish that boasts a thumbprint on either side. The John Dory is a fine fish that needs to be treated with more respect than a cheese sandwich. Legend has it that the dark spot is St. Peter’s thumbprint. The more I think about this, the less probable it is to be true. A thumbprint on either side of the fish? What the hell was St. Peter playing at?

Anyway, to convince myself that times are better today than then, I cooked Pan Fried John Dory with Bok Choi in Garlic and Sweet Potato with Parmesan Cheese. This sounds pretty fancy. I was driven by a desire to use up the one remaining sweet potato in the house and the last of the bok choi.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 filets of very fresh John Dory
  • 2 heads of bok choi
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sweet potato
  • Parmesan cheese to grate
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil or similar and butter for frying
  • Salt and black pepper to season
  • Seasoned flour to dust your fish

Peel and blitz the sweet potato.

Peel that sweet potato. It is a most versatile vegetable.

Add some seasoning and some olive oil.

Ready to shred the sweet potato. Pepper and olive oil added.

Pack into pastry cutters and pop into the oven on a baking tray.

Ready to bake. Sweet potato topped with grated parmesan cheese.

200 degrees centigrade for 25 minutes.

The sweet potato just out of the oven. Those pastry cutters are featuring in every second post. They are a great addition to any kitchen. Go now and buy some.

Lovely ring to the name Bok Choi.

Wash and trim the bok choi. Peel and chop the garlic. Fry the bok choi in a wok in oil seasoned with the garlic.

Get your pan to medium hot add the oil and butter. Fry the fish for a couple of minutes until it is cooked. This is probably less time than you think. These are slim fish and will be ruined if you over-cook them. Don’t do that.

Put it all on a couple of plates and serve it.

A very tasty combination. John Dory, Bok Choi and Sweet Potato.

We ate everything except the thumbprint. Far tastier than the opposition below….

I am not a man to force his views on the unwilling.  If you are a Luddite and believe that things were better back in the day, here’s how to make a 1979 Cheese Sandwich.

You will need

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 2 slices of rubbery cheese
  • Butter substitute
  • Some newspapers to thumb through

Everything you could possibly need to make this gastronomic reminiscence.

Spread the butter substitute on one side of the two slices of bread. Place the rubbery cheese on the butter substituty bit of one slice. Place the other slice, butter substitute side down on the cheese. Slice.

Hold that bread in place while you slice down hard to get through the rubber cheese…

Side note 2: If you are having your wife’s / husband’s / partner’s parents over, you might want to cut the sandwich on the diagonal. If you are a groveling, slimy, social climber, you may wish to remove the crusts. If you are making the sandwich for hairy armed men, cut across the centre and don’t touch the crusts. Real men like crusts. 

Serve to the unfortunates who put up with you.

The finished article. It brings back such sweet memories. Or does it?

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Latest comments
  • Hi Conor,
    Lovely story and lovely recipe. Must make sweet potato like that some time! For some reason John Dory is not generally available in this country. Can’t agree more on not overcooking the fish! Love the picture of the sandwich with the thumbprint! Perhaps I could press an iPad thumb on my sandwich, as that’s what I read my newspaper on nowadays?
    Can’t wait for your next post,

    • Thanks Stefan,
      We were talking about the future of newspapers in the office today. While their demise is unthinkable for some, one must remember that there used to be a thriving horse whip industry. I generally have my news reading done (also on iPad) before I get out of bed. It tends to dull the attraction of reading the news that was printed yesterday and driven around the country in a van at night before resting on a newsagent’s counter for a few hours…

  • Thumbs up!

  • In defence of the cheap sandwich: when I was a student there was a shop between the quays and Pearse Street that did the most amazing sandwiches – the Thick Slice. A loaf of bread would make two sandwiches. The loaf would be sliced in two lengthways, and each half sliced again. Then your filling of cheese, egg, tomato, mustard, lettuce whatever. And all for next to nothing. . And yes, the mid-80s were grim, but there were fancier affordable options available – and there were queues out the door, for good reason. Then the celtic tiger came along of course and the whole block was swept away for an office building.

    Fish looks good too though!

    • Funny, I enjoyed their sandwiches. The other place was a bit too sterile for my tastes.

  • Hey Conor!
    Wonderful post as usual. Lovely story. Perfect pictures. You got any pictures of you with the hair? Oh please say yes!

    • But of course I do. However, I don’t plan on unleashing that God like beauty on the world. Not for the moment anyway.

  • I love reading of your beautiful story! It’s like a novel! Thank you for sharing your story and cute thumb print as well!

  • Great use of food rings. As for the Guide to Dublin Pubs I imagine its demise was due to the readers becoming so wasted as to be unable to use it. My last experience of Ireland’s signature brew resulted in me lying in a gutter in Sutton, London whilst a friend tried to get me into a taxi who’s driver didn’t want to help. That was last week. No it was many years ago. Honest.

    • That, my friend, is the next time you visit Dublin. I will happily provide the guidance.

  • I enjoyed this post – the ‘recipe’ for the white cheese sandwich and the side note on serving directions had me laughing out loud. I like the sound of the sweet potatoes cooked in the pastry ring, I think I will make it over the weekend.

  • The dinner looks fabulous! We do not have John Dory here. It resembles what they call a sand dab. Maybe the same? Maybe not.

    I had not thought of featuring rubbery cheese sandwiches until now. And the butter substitute either. Hmmm…maybe I should post something using what I fondly call “Fake Cheese.” This is aka Velveeta. I feel a creepy crawly feeling even thinking about having that in my house! Love the post Conor!

    • Thanks Barb, I bought the cheese slices for the post. Honest. It was thrown out a few days later, still rubbery, still slightly sweaty. Ugh.

      • And BTW John Dory is not a flatfish. Rather, a squashed round fish. They are pug-ugly in a monkfish kind of way. Very tasty though.

        • Love monkfish, and we cannot get it here anymore… 🙁

  • LMAO!!! Conor I love this post. I have never had John Dory, but i will look for it. The 1979 grilled cheese ending had me ROTF! Great dish friend 🙂

  • Oh, you really had me laughing with this post. I think you thumbprint fish is much better than you thumbprint sandwich. I’m going to look for the pastry cutter “molds”. Love your presentation.

  • Great post – made me think of the film ‘Midnight in Paris’ (all about nostalgia for ‘better times’ in the past). Your thumbprint sandwich is great and reminds me, maybe the ‘good old days’ weren’t always so!

    • They were simpler times. No happier, that’s for sure. Happiness can be self generated, if the woes of the world leave one alone for a while…

  • I grew up in the disco/bell bottoms era, the faded jeans era, the torn jeans era, women wearing men’s boxer shorts on the outside of their clothes. Notwithstanding guys now wearing their pants down around their knees, I’m not totally convinced that past fashions were more fashionable. lol

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