Norman Tebbit: The House of Lords is full of lily livers

Date:12-09-2013 07:58:06 read:1

Norman Tebbit: The House of Lords is full of lily livers

A directive banning rare calves’ liver from the House of Lords’ menu has left Lord Tebbit pink with rage

Kitchen cabinet: Norman Tebbit agrees with Larousse that calves' liver is 'the unassailable king of the (liver) clan’  Photo: GETTY

Above and out of the reach of us transient law makers, there are the iron laws for the survival of our species. There it is written that a reply to a threat must be not only effective, but proportionate.

So what on earth was the threat that prompted Tim Lamming, head of catering services in the House of Lords, to instruct his staff that: “Calves’ liver must be removed from the menu or must be cooked according to the Food Standards Agency [FSA] recommendations irrespective of the guest’s wishes.” Indeed, he went further, adding that “the preference is for the dish to be removed from menus altogether”.

Clearly, he is aware of the awesome threat to him and his career should a diner be struck down by a slice of medium-rare calves’ liver. It would probably be more than “his job’s worth”. Trifling with a quango can be dangerous, and it might be best, from Lamming’s point of view, to treat the FSA with respect.

All of which leaves me wondering, what exactly is the threat? I have to confess that I agree with the judgment of my Larousse Gastronomique, which holds that it is “the unassailable king of the (liver) clan”.

We eat it at home fried briefly in very hot butter with just a little oil to crispen the outside and leave the interior a healthy pink. As my guru of the kitchen, Sophie Grigson, writes: “To overcook calves’ liver is a well nigh mortal sin and a terrible waste of money.”

Telegraph food columnist Xanthe Clay says: “The most delicious calves’ liver is alla veneziana. The sweetness and sharpness of the onions combined with the intensity of ferric liver is just sublime.

“Those in the know have never stopped eating calves’ liver, as it is delicious. However, it is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.”

None of my family members, nor anyone I know, has ever suffered from food poisoning – or picked up a liver fluke or even indigestion – from consuming properly cooked (that is, cooked my way) calves’ liver, and I have never heard of anyone doing so. Nor, I fancy, has the FSA. Having tried to navigate through its website, I could find no listing of outbreaks felling diners across the land.

Indeed, Xanthe adds: “The idea that you catch food poisoning off liver is nonsense. It just does not happen in a clean kitchen. The liver is sliced and seared on the outside, killing any bugs. So if food poisoning does occur, it is down to an unhygenic kitchen.”

To be fair to the Lords team, I understand that a spokesman has said that they do intend to keep calves’ liver on the menu, but I suppose it will have to be rendered uneatable before being brought to the table.

Perhaps I should look on the bright side. A few years ago, a well-intentioned television chef demonstrated how to make a nutritious and cheap meal from calves’ shanks. At the time, my butcher was glad to sell them to me for £1.50 a piece. Within weeks, the price had soared to about £5. If the FSA would really weigh into the dangers of eating calves’ liver, it might bring the price back down to a level at which we who do not mind living dangerously could eat it more often.

Perhaps it is outside the remit of the FSA, but there is a far worse food threat to public health than undercooked liver or chicken’s eggs. Every day, I see people who can scarcely waddle, let alone walk, from extreme obesity. Too frequently, parents and children alike are guzzling junk food and swilling bottles of sweet drinks. The awesome bill for the treatment of diabetes and heart disease in 20 years’ time will probably rival that for dementia and other old-age frailties. There is plenty of education to be performed there.

In the House of Commons, things have been even worse than in the Lords. There, eggs – or at least fresh ones used in scrambled egg, omelettes and mousses – were taken off the menu in August as a result of a salmonella scare, although there has been no epidemic of salmonella. One MP said: “It all started in the Tearoom when staff told us [these items] were now made with powdered egg, not fresh eggs. They said it was all to do with health and safety. There was a lot of anger.”

The Commons ban on fresh eggs has been reversed, but it reminded me of travelling somewhere “East of Suez” 60 years ago, when hygiene standards could in places be lamentably low, and a little rhyme that we knew in those days:

“What will you have for breakfast, Sahib?

Said the Bearer picking his nose.

'Two boiled eggs,’ the diner said,

'You can’t get your finger in those.’”

The sad thing about this farrago of nonsense is that it obscures the fact that, like the much-abused Health and Safety Executive, the Food Standards Agency has a serious and important job to do.

The problem is that the over-the-top rulings and recommendations made in the names of the agency and the executive stem from further down the line. They are often an over-reaction to the very real threat posed by the ambulance-chasing lawyers and the even more avaricious management firms blackmailing local authorities and private businesses into buying off personal injury claims.

If peers regarding plates of onions without liver become motivated to do something about that, some good may come of it all.

Pan-Fried Calves’ Liver with Kale and Fennel Seed Onion

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 tsp dried fennel seeds

10g plain flour

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp rock salt

150g calves’ liver

15g butter

3 kale leaves

35ml red wine

35ml water

corner of a beef stock cube

1. Heat olive oil in a frying pan, and cook the thinly-sliced onions on a medium-low heat for 25 minutes.

2. Add the fennel seeds to the pan for the last five minutes of cooking. Move the fennelonions to a side plate, and keep warm.

3. Put the plain flour, salt and pepper into a plastic bag and shake to combine. Add the calves’ liver to the bag, and lightly coat with the seasoned flour.

4. Fill a saucepan with water from the kettle, and bring to the boil.

5. In the meantime, melt the butter in the same frying pan as the onions, and cook the calves’ liver for 1 minute on either side. Leave it to rest. The liver should be lightly-browned on the outside, and meaty-pink in the middle.

6. Plunge the kale leaves in the pan of boiling water for two minutes.

7. While the kale is cooking, deglaze the frying pan which the liver was cooked in. Pour the red wine into the hot pan, and while still on the heat use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom. Add a slosh of boiling water and a small corner of a stock cube for colour and salty flavour.

9. Arrange the kale on a hot plate, put the liver on it, then top with the fennel seed onion, and pour a little of the jus over the top.

Rachel Smith

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013