When you think of Irish food do you think of corned beef and cabbage served with boiled potatoes, or does a “Study of Oven-Roasted Chicken on Braised Cabbage with a Confit of Cocoa Bean and Prosciutto” come to mind?
If you are more likely to think of the former than the latter, you are likely one of many from whom Irish cuisine deserves more respect.
In fact, the culinary heritage of Ireland is steeped in naturally available culinary ingredients — an immense array of seafood, grass-fed meats, and tender produce grown in rich soil, for example. And its chefs are bound only by their creativity whether preparing a classically hearty and satisfying lamb dish (see recipe) or the upscale dish mentioned above recently highlighted on the menu at Dunbrody House on the eastern coast of Ireland).
“I'm afraid the perception of Irish cuisine in America hasn't changed as much here as it has there,” says cookbook author Margaret Johnson.
“Most places in the U.S. that bill themselves as ‘Irish’ (pubs, etc.) generally just put a lyrical Irish name in front of things with names like Dublin cheeseburger or Waterford Wings. A pub owner once told me, ‘I've got to make a living, and that means giving the customers what they want.’”
Yet a look at Ireland's recent culinary history in the last quarter of the 20th century saw the emergence of a “new” Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. The emphasis is on fresh vegetables, fish (especially salmon and trout) oysters, mussels and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, a wide range of hand-made cheeses made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Indeed, traditional dishes, such as Irish stew, coddle (pork, bacon, potato stew), the Irish breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, and half a tomato), and potato bread have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
Perhaps the biggest revolution in Irish cuisine began in the early 1960s and is credited to Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House/Restaurant in Cork and her daughter-in-law, Darina Allen. Myrtle took the freshest and best of Irish ingredients — meat reared on grass, fresh-picked produce and fish direct from the sea — and prepared them with a minimum of fuss using classic European, mainly Mediterranean, cooking methods. her goal was exposing worldly travelers and simple cooks alike to the pleasures of Ireland's natural bounty.
Items on her menu today include Baked Halibut with Herbed Hollandaise Sauce & Tomato Fondue; Roast Free-Range Guinea Fowl with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Red Currant Sauce and French Beans; and a Fritatta of Exotic Mushrooms, Olives, Tarragon & Organic Greens.
Darina Allen established Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1983. It is located in the middle of its own 100-acre organic farm, further educating gourmands on the delicious dishes of Ireland.
Closer to home, Chef Kevin Dundon, who owns the previously mentioned Dunbrody House, a very well known luxury country house-hotel in Ireland, has crossed over to America and holds influence in, of all places, Walt Disney World, in Orlando, FL.
In Ireland, his guests dine on Baked Filets of Cod with a Watercress Crust served on Tortellini of Goat's Cheese and Artichokes; Char-Grilled Fillet of Prime Wexford Beef with an Oxtail Cottage Pie; or, for non-meat eaters, Roasted Pumpkin, Red Pepper and Goat's Cheese Pie with a Nicoise Salad.
At his Raglan Road Irish Pub in downtown Disney, he tempts American customers with Oven-roasted Loin of Ham with an Irish Mist glaze served with Braised Cabbage and Creamed Potato; Pork Loin stuffed with Homemade Sausage drizzled with Honey Soy Glaze; or a Portobello mushroom cap “Burger” filled with Dubliner cheese and tomato relish.
Perhaps the one thing that has most overshadowed Ireland's rich culinary heritage has been, of all things, the common potato. Read a full account, A History of Irish Cuisine, (Before and After the Potato) by John Linnane BSc., MSc., at http://www.ravensgard.org/prdunham/irishfood.html.
Authors Lunch: Perhaps the rainy weather inspired many great Irish writers. James Joyce, widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, is best known for his landmark novel Ulysses. Oscar Wilde, a playwright, novelist, poet, and author of short stories was one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London. Other notables include Johnathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels); Samuel Beckett, a writer, dramatist and poet, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. George Bernard Shaw, playwright, and W.B. Yeats, poet.
Oyster/Seafood Festival: Seafood has always been popular in Ireland, but shellfish dishes have increased in popularity in recent times due to the high quality of shellfish available from its coastline, such as Dublin Bay prawns, oysters and other crustaceans. Many oyster festivals are held annually along the coast where the oysters are often served with Guinness. Salmon and cod are perhaps the two most common types of fish used in other Irish recipes.
Coffee and Cake: Bread baking has been an art for thousands of years in Ireland but the bakers there also have some wonderful sweets. Offer these for breakfast or brunch, and include them in your Irish-themed promotions — scones, blackberry tarts, porter cake, light fruit cake, Christmas pudding, spiced apple tarts, Angel cake, apple crumble, raised doughnuts, and more. Visit http://www.foodireland.com/recipes/Bakery/Index.htm for recipes, or check out Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools: 80 Glorious Desserts by Margaret M. Johnson, 2004, Chronicle Books LLC, $24.95
In an Irish Kitchen
Traditional to trendy, these are just a few cookbooks that will whet the appetite and elevate the creative genius for chefs of all skill levels.
Irish Spirit: Recipes Inspired by the Legendary Drinks of Ireland by Margaret M. Johnson, Leigh Beisch (Photographer), 2006, Chronicle Books LLC Pub. Date, $24.95
Full on Irish: Creative Contemporary Cooking by Kevin Dundon, 2006, Publisher: Campbell, Georgina Guides Ltd., $30
The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson, Leigh Beisch (Photographer), 2005, Chronicle books, $24.95
Irish Traditional Cooking: Over 300 Recipes from Ireland's Heritage by Darina Allen 2005, Kyle Cathie Limited Pub., $19.95
New Irish Cookery by Paul Rankin, Jeanne Rankin, 2004, B B C Worldwide Americas, $45
(A paperback version was released in 2005, $25)
Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook, by Darina Allen, 2002, Pelican Publishing Company, Incorporated Pub., $45
A Little Book of Irish Baking by Marion Maxwell, Catherine McWilliams (Illustrator), Appletree Press Ltd, Pub. 2002, $8.95
Chilly Winter's Eve Lamb Shank Supper
YIELD: 4 servings
|4||American Lamb foreshanks|
|Salt and coarse pepper to taste|
|1 Tbsp.||olive oil|
|4 cloves||garlic, finely chopped|
|3||carrots, peeled, sliced on the diagonal ¼-inch thick|
|1||large onion, chopped|
|1||fennel, quartered lengthwise, sliced ¼-inch thick (do not use solid center)|
|2 bottles||light to medium beer* (12 oz. ea.)|
|1 can||chopped petite tomatoes and juice (15 oz.)|
|1 cup||fat-free chicken broth|
|10 sprigs||fresh thyme|
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Generously season shanks with salt and pepper. In large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Brown shanks on all sides until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from skillet and place in a baking pan. Pour out liquid from pan.
In same skillet, combine garlic, carrots, onion and fennel; sauté for 6 to 8 minutes to lightly brown, stirring occasionally. Mix in beer or broth, tomatoes and juice, chicken broth, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Pour over shanks. Braise in oven for 2½ hours. Baste shanks with sauce and turn them over every 45 minutes.
Serve lamb in large, low-sided soup bowls with broth and vegetables.
*24 ounces of fat-free chicken broth may be substituted.
Recipe and image from the American Lamb Board
In an Irish Pantry
Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, and assorted seafood are all staples of great Irish food that are already in your pantry or cooler! For added authenticity, offer some specialty cheeses imported from Ireland.
DUBLINER is a mature cheese with a rounded flavor and natural hint of sweetness. It has the elements of a mature cheddar with the bite of aged Parmesan. Use in sandwiches, macaroni and cheese or grated into savory scones.
IVERNIA is a hard-grating, full-flavored Italian type cheese aged three years to develop its distinctive piquant character. Ivernia can be chunked or sliced for a cheese plate or grated into dough, noodles or burger mixes.
KERRYGOLD RESERVE CHEDDAR has a strong, intense and sharp flavor. It is aged two years to concentrate the flavors, but maintains a rich and creamy quality. (All Kerrygold cheeses are made with milk from grass-fed cows, which produce cheeses with natural golden color. Produced by a cooperative of small dairy farmers, these cheeses are hormone-, antibiotic-, and additive-free.)
CROGHAN: A semi-soft goat's milk cheese made in County Wexford. It has a washed pink rind and a velvety interior. Somewhat like Gouda it has a light clean buttery taste. Production is limited and it is mainly available from spring through Christmas. Use on a cheese board.
GUBBEEN: a semi-soft cow's milk cheese made in County Cork, it has a soft washed rind with a creamy-colored interior with a slightly tangy flavor, good for cheese and fruit presentations.