Natural Born Killers

Back in the good old days, it was starvation, war or pestilence that resulted in a person’s impromptu death. Nowadays it’s not the absence of food, but the very food we eat that is perceived as the potential mass killer.

In my lifetime alone, there have been dire warnings about ‘death by chicken’ via the bird flu virus — in 1985 it was a dose of salmonella via eggs that would carry you off –two years ago we were told that coffee drinking could be linked to higher miscarriage risk, and in 2003 that beef protein (containing bovine DNA) was being injected into chicken nuggets in order to add bulk to the product.

A year earlier we were warned that consuming swordfish and tuna could result in mercury poisoning, and it would be suicidal to eat warm water prawns from Asia as you would then be dosing up on the illegal nitrofurans — used to kill micro organisms in overcrowded shrimp farms and believed to cause cancer in humans.

If you are dying for a Chinese meal, you could very well have your wish after a Czech scientist in 1980 found that the food additive hydrolised vegetable protein contained dodgy levels of 3-MCPD, a chemical later linked to cancer in rats. Its also used by less scrupulous manufacturers to boost the flavour of soy sauce, with a recent random test of 22 out of 100 soy sauces on supermarket shelves in Britain found to contain more than the EU permitted amount of 3-MCPD. 1990, was a pretty disastrous year for the French water producer Perrier — their product was found to be contaminated with benzene, a particularly poisonous liquid shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The company had to swiftly withdraw more than 70 million bottles from sale in the US and Canada, with a further 90 million bottles being removed from shelves world wide, Perrier it is believed took a global financial hit of around 263 million pounds.

‘Baby killer cheese bug’ was the headline in March 1989 when high levels of Listeria monocytogenes in dairy and other products were linked to miscarriage, stillbirth and meningitis in babies of infected mothers. Pregnant women were told to steer clear of pate, soft ripened cheeses such as Brie, Gorgonzola, Danish blue, and Stilton, along with cottage cheese, cream and fromage frais.

Then there was the burgers with fries and side order of brain-eating bugs, with 100,000 cattle having been diagnosed in the late eighties early nineties as having BSE, or mad cow disease, which is known to result in the human form, vCJD. Scientists believe that the disease resulted from feeding meat by-products to herbivores.

There is an old Scottish legend that if you pick the salmon of wisdom from a fire on which it was being roasted and you burn your fingers, if you then lick them you will absorb all human knowledge. These days we are assured that to eat salmon is to absorb not worldly wisdom, but essential Omega-3 oils, and if you believe a recent report from the US our ‘king of fish’ is also stuffed to the gills with pollutant chemicals.

Panic ensued from Shetland to the Borders of Scotland as hundreds of thousands of workers involved in the £150 million salmon business tried to get some answers to what was seen as a near fatal blow to the Scottish reputation for supplying consistently quality foodstuffs. But, like all scare stories the resultant pro reports on the salmon scare from the EU the WHO, and the FDA, were not headline news. Their reports clearly stated; ‘All foods carry some risks — the levels of dioxins found in farmed Salmon are well below safety levels set by all the major international watchdog organisations. ‘It’s a question of balancing benefits and risks, with the known benefits of eating oily fish outweighing any possible risks.’

I then worked it out: to hit the upper limit recommended by the EU I would have to eat six 100g portions of salmon every single week, and at the price they charge in the supermarkets for imported Scottish salmon, I’d have killed myself through going into debt long before the dioxins claimed me.

So, for those brave folk out there, who still risk life and limb by regularly eating eggs, meat, shellfish, chickens, cheese, pate’s, fish, meringues, ice cream, even smarties, or the odd packet of jelly-babies, then, here is a splendid recipe to serve as that perfect lunchtime ‘killer dish’ for your guests.

Salmon Patties with Caper sauce.

Serves six as a main course.

125g mayonnaise
1tbsp fresh lemon juice
1tbsp very finely chopped parsley
1tbsp canned or bottled drained and very finely chopped capers
2 slices of firm white bread
600g canned salmon drained skinned and boned.
1 medium egg
3 spring onions chopped
60ml milk
2tbsp Dijon mustard
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
25g dried breadcrumbs
2tbsp vegetable oil
30g margarine or butter.

Prepare caper sauce-stir mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley and capers together and put in a small bowl cover and place in fridge.

Process bread in a blender or food processor (using the knife blade)
Place in large bowl.

Add salmon/egg/spring onions/milk/mustard/Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce.
Mix lightly until blended, but leave salmon in largish chunks.

Shape the salmon mixture into six 1cm thick round patties.

Place the dried breadcrumbs on greaseproof paper, and very carefully dip patties one at a time into crumbs to coat.

Heat oil with margarine in 30cm frying pan over a medium heat.

Add salmon patties and cook 5-10 minutes turning once, until browned and heated all the way through.

Serve with the caper sauce, crusty bread, and a tangy rocket salad.