St. Patrick's Day Recipes (With a Bit of History on the Side)
One cannot think of Ireland without thinking of potatoes, yet interestingly enough, the potato is not indigenous to Ireland. Like the man for whom the holiday is named, the potato is a *gasp* transplant from another country! There are several theories as to how the potato exactly landed in Ireland, but all place the timeline around the latter part of the 16th century. One legend has it that in 1588, ships from the Spanish Armada wrecked off the Irish coast and washed ashore. These vessels were carrying potatoes, thus the vegetation was washed ashore with them. Another theory has it that in 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh first brought the potato to Ireland to plant at his estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork. Either way, the potato became a staple crop for the people of Ireland, and recipes for this humble tuber are sure to be found in any Irish cookbook worth its salt. This is one of my favorites:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 3 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup chopped green onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Garnish: shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced green onion
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic; cook for 4 minutes, or until vegetables are softened. Add potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup is thick and only small chunks of potato remain.
Add cheese, green onion, salt, and pepper, stirring until cheese is melted. Garnish with cheese and green onion, if desired.
This delicious dish has a rather sad history, dating back to the time of the first great famine (1765-1767) in Ireland. Due to the famine, there was a great migration of displaced rural families to urban areas such as Dublin, building shanties on the outskirts of town or living in tenement housing. These people were used to living in a rural setting, keeping pigs next to their housing for personal consumption, to be turned into sausage or rashers as the need arose (along with the better cuts being pickled or salted for use year-round). Needless to say, countless of pork-based dishes sprang up; being both inexpensive, filling, and relatively nutritious. Ask a dozen Dubliners to give you a recipe for Codal Duibnlinneach (Dublin Coddle), and you will likely get a dozen different answers, each swearing that their version is the only 'true and authentic one". Here is the favorite one I have tried:
- 4 bacon rashers
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 8 large pork sausages
- 4 large potatoes
- 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 1/4 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the bacon into 1-inch strips.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon for 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook for another 5-6 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the pork sausages to the pan and cook on all sides for 5-6 minutes until golden brown.
Slice the potatoes thinly and arrange in the base of a large, buttered ovenproof dish. Spoon the bacon and onion mixture on top. Season with the ground black pepper and salt and sprinkle with the sage.
Pour on the chicken stock and top with the sausages. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Another popular St. Patrick's Day misconception. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, folks, but this is not a traditional Irish meal at all. Traditionally, the cabbage would have been served with boiled ham. It was not until the Irish immigrated to New York that the notion of corned beef came about, being borrowed from their Jewish neighbors as pork was very hard to come by and very expensive. This was the cheaper (yet tasty) alternative. Even though it is not 'authentically Irish', it is perhaps the dish best associated with this holiday, so I would be remiss to not include a recipe here.
- 3 pound beef brisket with spice pack
- 10 small red potatoes
- 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 large head cabbage, cut into small wedges
Place corned beef in large pot or Dutch oven and cover with water. Add spice pack, cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer approximately 50 minutes per pound or until tender.
Add whole potatoes and carrots; cook until the vegetables are almost tender. Add cabbage and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove meat and let rest 15 minutes.
Place vegetables in a bowl and cover. Add as much reserved broth as you want. Cut meat across the grain and serve.
Another shocker here, folks! This most traditional of Irish breads actually did not become big on the Irish food scene until the mid 1840's when bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) was introduced. It worked extremely well as a leavening agent with the 'soft' wheat grown in Ireland, and voila' a tradition is born!! The earliest published recipe for soda bread is found in the November 1836 edition of Farmer's Magazine based out of London, England. It was referencing an article printed in the Newry Telegraph, an Irish newspaper published in County Down. Ireland.
Okay, very important stuff here, folks..so take notes!! Despite whatever ghastly rumors you may have heard, traditional Irish soda bread does NOT, I repeat, does NOT contain fruit, sugar, honey, eggs, zest, cream, or any other such nonsense. If it contains raisins, it's "Railway Cake", or "Spotted Dog". In fact, if it contains sugar, eggs, fruit, zest, etc etc..it's a cake, people..NOT bread and certainly NOT traditional soda bread. Traditional soda bread is a very simple dish with very simple ingredients. The variations are tasty, sure enough, but call a spade a spade..if you want traditional soda bread, leave well enough alone and back away from the raisins!!!! Eat an oatmeal cookie already, dangit, but quit messing with the bread or I'll sic my leprechaun friends on you!!!
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450F. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda into a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk.
Using one hand, slowly incorporate the flour into the milk, to give a soft, but not sticky, dough.
Turn onto a floured board and knead lightly for 1 minute until smooth. Smooth and shape into a round about 1 1/2 inches high. Cut a deep cross from one edge to the other and place on a floured cookie sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400F and bake for another 30 minutes. To test if the bread is cooked. tap the bottom of the bread, which should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack and serve.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)