I thought this was going to be a meal of corned beef and raisin-studded soda bread. I quickly learned that that would be perhaps the meal of an Irish immigrant in America, but not really one to be found on the Emerald Isle. You’ll see why! The diet of Ireland is a very economical one, based on its damp, gray climate. Potatoes, of course, are the main starch, carrots and cabbage the primary vegetables, and protein coming from milk and pork. You’ll see all of this in the meal.
Big thanks to our friend Sean, who helped with the structure of the meal, and read a few food-related portions of the book he just wrote about his mother’s experience growing up in a large, rural Irish family. Our other guests were Bill, Cathlin, Erin, Brendan, and Tennessee.
Soda bread | Recipe
Thanks to the Society for the Prevention of Irish Soda Bread, I learned to disregard all those recipes with raisins and sugar and caraway, buy a fresh box of baking soda, and bake the loaf in a cast-iron dutch oven. I made the brown bread version, which made up for in heartiness and authenticity what it lacked in sweetness or crispness. And of course, it went very well with Kerrygold butter — which it turns out are made just down the road from Sean's family — and Dubliner cheese.
According to Sean, fried potatoes smothered in a mild curry sauce is the snack of choice while drinking out on the town in modern Ireland. And while often the quest for authenticity will send me down winding paths of grinding strange herbs or sprouting seeds or rendering animal parts, in this case, doing it the right way was as easy as tearing open a few packages. With oil-sprayed Irish oven chips and a packet of powdered curry sauce teeming with MSG, I whipped up a totally guilty-pleasure dish that seems a whole lot like Irish poutine in but a few minutes. I can’t wait to go to Dublin some day, get drunk, and eat these again.
Boiling bacon is a salt-brined hunk of pork that’s a lot closer to what we think of as ham to that fat-streaked breakfast meat that we call bacon in America, and is the closest thing to a national dish in Ireland. So why do we eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Multiple sources say that when Irish immigrants got to the states, beef was far more commonly available, and was often found preserved in corns of salt, hence corned beef. It’s prepared just about the same way as Irish bacon — boiled for a good long while. So eventually it took hold, and now plenty of restaurants in Ireland serve corned beef to match American tourists’ expectations.
So how’s boiled bacon? Kind of what you’d expect for salt-preserved meat boiled for a few hours: sorta salty, not terribly flavorful, but satisfying enough, especially if you helped yourself to some of the fat.
Black and white puddings
If you want more interestingly flavored meats, go for the sausage, or shall we say pudding. Both are made with oats and some spice; the difference is the white pudding is made with fat and random pig bits, while the black is made of the blood. Both were plenty tasty when fried up in a bit of the fat I rendered from the bacon!
Colcannon | Cabbage and mashed potato | Recipe
Colcannon is a dish so famous it’s got a song written about it. It’s real comfort food of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale, and cream and/or butter mixed in with maybe some scallions. I made two versions, one of cabbage boiled in the salty bacon water with the Kerrygold butter and cream from the farmer’s market, and the other a vegan one of cabbage and coconut oil. Both were quite tasty, and a good foil to that salty meat.
OK, this is actually an Irish food stereotype that is true: they do cook with beer! Sean was kind enough to share with e his grandmother’s closely guarded recipe entitled “My Own Porter Cake.” It’s a dense affair, with a whole lot of raisins and a bottle of Guinness. You’ll forgive me for avoiding the twenty minutes of hand beating the recipe called for, I let my good friend Kitchenaid do that part. I realized about five minutes after putting the cake in the rather low-heat oven that I’d forgotten to add the spices, so I simply put them in the whipped cream I served on the side.
Sean also brought a playlist, so we enjoyed a wide variety of Irish music, from 70's Northern Irish punk bands to the Cranberries and U2. Oh, and we ended the evening 1.5 bottles of Irish whiskey poorer!