There is an old saying about poor cooking: “Tastes like hospital food.” I suspect that this really doesn’t have currency nowadays. Generally speaking, the food served in Irish hospitals appears to be a pretty good mix of carbs, proteins and other goodness designed to keep the patients in reasonable health until they depart the hospital or the world. This was not always the case.
My late father was, amongst many other things, a pathologist. For some years, he operated from a lab in the basement of the Richmond Hospital in Dublin city centre. In my 20th year, I got an attack of acute appendicitis. This was back in the 70s when this meant being rushed to the hospital and having a large incision in the gut to remove the offending and offensive organ.
The recovery time was protracted and I was confined to bed, unable to move, for a number of days. On one afternoon, two ‘friends’ of mine visited, with what looked like apples wrapped in purple tissue (as was traditional at the time). They removed the tissues to reveal not apples but onions. These were crushed and stuffed down my bed. I was too sore to move and get rid of them. They then called the Ward Sister to my bed, telling her that I was secretly eating onions. She threw back the covers to reveal the pile of crushed vegetables. She, a strapping country lass, accused me of hiding them and eating them on the sly. Despite my plaintive protests, she was having none of it. She assured me she knew the truth as I had not taken any lunch for the past number of days. I was in real trouble. I had not been eating my meals…
The truth of it was that each morning, a bustling doctor in a large white coat would visit my bed, pull around the curtain while saying in a very loud voice “Now Mr. Bofin, let’s see how you are doing today.” He would then sit on the side of my bed and take out my home cooked lunch from the recesses of the over large white coat. Yes, it was my father, visiting from the labs below. We would chat for a while and Dad would take away the previous day’s plate to avoid suspicion being aroused.
My friends blew this for me and I ended up having to take the hospital food and sneak it (very painfully with my festering wound) into the toilet for disposal, so I could enjoy the secreted lunch each day.
After all that, I guess I owe you a recipe. How about Chicken Liver Paté on Toast Melba? This liver is not that far from the appendix but It’s as far away from that hospital food as you can get. This is my late father’s recipe, as best we could recreate it. I did it with my Mum and we both enjoyed the experience a lot.
For this most 1970’s of dishes, you will need:
- A small sliced loaf
- 500 grammes (1 lb) of chicken livers
- 6 or 7 streaky bacon strips.
- A dash of Cognac
- A few nice mushrooms
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Some nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
You will also need a strong stomach because there is a bit of gore in the preparation. First chop the onion, mushroom, garlic and thyme.
Then roughly chop the chicken livers, discarding any extraneous bits that you would not like to find between your teeth.
They don’t look much better after they’re chopped.
Gently fry the onion until it is translucent. Add the chopped livers. This warrants not one but two pouring shots for the fans of such like.
Pouring shot number two. Things improve after this one, I promise.
I added the garlic at the same time as the livers. It’s under there somewhere. Next I added the mushroom, thyme, salt and pepper and a splash of Cognac to bring an extra dimension. My mum grated about a quarter of a nutmeg into the mix too. It was on the pan for about four minutes total.
Next, we bashed a few rashers of bacon (between two sheets of cling film) with the rolling-pin.
Next we spooned the mixture into the tin. This warrants a couple of shots too.
Given that we used a 1 lb loaf tin and started with 1lb of chicken livers, it fits pretty well in the tin.
Next, we fold over the bacon as best we can and add a couple of extra strips.
This then goes into a Bain Marie (water bath) and is placed in a 200°C oven for an hour. When it comes out, it looks like this.
We put it in the fridge overnight after it had cooled. The next day, we made the Toast Melba. This is really easy. Toast some plain white bread on both sides. Cut off the crusts and slice each slice in half – through the bread. Have a look at the photo to see what I really mean.
Then toast the exposed sides of the slices. Hey presto, Toast Melba!
Now the bit you have been waiting for. The finished product, straight out of the tin. I had to pop it back into the water bath for a couple of minutes to break the seal between the bacon and the tin.
It was wonderful to cook my late father’s recipe with my Mum after so many years. We did it from Mum’s memory and the end result really was awesome. It made me really proud. I suppose a plated shot is called for in celebration!
I told Mum the story of the onions and of the secret hospital food deliveries. She had never heard either before. Typical of my Dad. Mind you, he didn’t hear the onion story from me either.
Note of line extension: Mum tells me that Toast Melba was named after Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian opera singer. The line extension involves the second dish named for the dame, Peach Melba. However, this will have to wait until peaches are back in season here in the northern hemisphere. More anon…