Celebrate St. Pat’s with delicious dishes
Although the town of Milton has already held its parade, there’s still time to prepare for St. Patrick’s Day festivities on Sunday. From mugs of green beer to slabs of corned beef, a wide range of traditions (some of them Irish) has become familiar across the country. While most Irish view the day as one of religious significance, Americans treat March 17 as an opportunity to wear green, symbolizing the lush color of Ireland’s rolling hills. And, of course, to have an excuse to raise a glass (or several) in honor of St. Patrick.
Since the quality of restaurant fare often falters when prepared in mass quantity, we’re going to keep our celebration local and small: just the two of us at the kitchen table. We’ll prepare a meal that features a few less-familiar Irish dishes that may not be found on a typical menu.
Despite their reputation for a potato-rich diet, early inhabitants of the Emerald Isle were definitely meat eaters who made use of the entire animal from snout to tail, especially pigs. The forebears of today’s Irish people – the Gauls followed by the Celts – have been roasting, stewing, smoking and salting pork for centuries. Although three-star French chef Pierre Koffmann features a truffle-stuffed version at his restaurant, we don’t plan to make braised trotters (pig’s feet) for Sunday dinner.
We’ll begin our meal with minimalist Irish soda bread, a simple recipe with only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Whether made with whole wheat or white flour, it will have a dense texture that crumbles under a slather of butter. It won’t keep, so it’s best eaten right from the oven. If you prefer to turn this into a sweeter loaf, you can find recipes that call for eggs, sugar, raisins and caraway seed – delicious variations on a basic theme.
If you look for an “authentic” Irish stew recipe, you’ll find a trend similar to what happened to soda bread. The original version would have nothing more than potatoes and lamb (or mutton if the sheep is more than a year old) simmered for hours. This dish was born of necessity, as there was little else to throw into the pot.
Over time, as other ingredients became available, you find that recipes include carrots, onions and Guinness. Adding stout to a lamb stew is an excellent match, as both have strong flavors. As the beer cooks, it becomes more concentrated and less bitter, leaving behind hints of roasted caramel. Since finding mutton neck meat (the traditional cut for Irish stew) is slightly challenging, we’re going to have coddle as our main course.
Coddle is a comfort food usually associated with Dublin and frequently called Dublin Coddle. This hearty dish made from salty bacon, pork sausages and potatoes is named for how it’s prepared: a long, slow “coddle” over low heat. Urban legend suggests its popularity stems from the fact the pot can be left warming on the stove until everyone returns from the pub.
There are probably as many recipes for Dublin Coddle as there are bars in the city, but the primary ingredients are as straightforward as stew. The difference in flavor, however, comes from smoky bacon and savory sausage, while starch in the potatoes combines with beef stock to thicken the rich sauce.
Since an Irish meal can never have too many potatoes, we’ll also serve colcannon. From a botanical standpoint, colcannon combines brassica (members of the cabbage family) and allium (members of the onion family) with boiled potatoes. I’ve seen recipes that instruct the cook to boil the cabbage and potatoes together before mashing the mess – don’t ever do this. For the lovely version in the photo, sauté onions, leeks and scallions, then stir in kale to briefly steam. This way, the slightly caramelized alliums combine their sweetness with creamy mashed potatoes and ruffled kale. The secret to eating this dish is to place a knob of butter in the center to melt. As servings are spooned from the edges, they’re dragged through the center to collect droplets of Kerrygold. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Irish Soda Bread
3 C whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 C buttermilk
1/3 C flour for kneading
Preheat oven to 450 F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl until the dough is soft, but not wet and sticky. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough lightly for a few seconds, then pat into a round almost 2 inches thick. Place it on the prepared baking sheet and cut an X in the center of the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400 F. Continue baking until the top is golden and the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, wrap loosely in a kitchen towel and cool slightly. Serve warm with butter and jam.
2 T vegetable oil
2 sliced onions
1/4 lb bacon
6 pork sausages
2 sliced carrots
1/2 lb sliced potatoes
salt & pepper, to taste
2 C beef stock
Preheat oven to 425 F. Coat the inside of a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Cut the bacon into 1/2–inch cubes and add to the skillet. Slice the sausages into 2-inch lengths and add to the skillet, stirring to combine. Continue to cook until the sausages start to brown (without burning the onions). Place a layer of the onion, bacon and sausage mixture in the prepared casserole dish, followed by a layer of sliced carrots and a layer of sliced potato. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Repeat the layering until all the ingredients have been used, ending with a layer of potato. Pour the stock into the casserole and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue cooking for another 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
1 lb potatoes
1/4 C butter, divided
1 chopped onion
2 chopped leeks
4 sliced scallions
1/2 lb kale
1/3 C milk
Peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a saucepan, cover with water and boil until fork tender.
Melt 1 T butter in a skillet. Add onions and leeks; sauté until softened over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add scallions and cook an additional 2 minutes. Chop the kale, removing tough center stems. Scatter kale over onions, stir together then cover the skillet and heat over very low heat for about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Add remaining butter and mash until most of the lumps are gone. Stir in the milk and then mix in kale mixture. To serve, spread potatoes in a low bowl and place a lump of butter in the center.