Irish Cuisine, Renewed and Reshaped

Detail from the cover of Margaret M. Johnson's 'The New Irish Table.'

hide captionDetail from the cover of Margaret M. Johnson's The New Irish Table.

Contrary to popular belief, Irish cooking has evolved beyond potatoes and corned beef and cabbage. Weekend Edition essayist Bonny Wolf explains what's been happening in the kitchens of Ireland's most creative chefs.

Tastes of Ireland

 

Boiled Bacon with Cabbage

 

The following recipe for boiled bacon with cabbage (more Irish than corned beef and cabbage) is from Tamasin Day-Lewis’ cookbook West of Ireland Summers: Recipes & Memories from an Irish Childhood (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1997). She says this is almost the national dish of Ireland.

 

Ingredients:

· 4-5 lb. unsmoked collar of bacon, without rind

· A selection of chopped vegetables (for example, 3 onions, 6 carrots, 2 leeks, 3-4 celery stalks)

· Bunch of fresh herbs, tied in a bundle

· 6-8 cups chicken stock or water

· 1 large green cabbage, cored and chopped

 

Soak the bacon in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water several times. Put the soaked bacon in a large casserole dish with the vegetables, herbs, and stock or water. Bring just to a boil, skim, turn the heat right down, and keep it simmering at a mere bubble, with the lid on, for about 30 minutes.

 

Add cabbage and continue to simmer for another hour (this sounds like a long time, but you are not looking for a crisply al dente result, quite the reverse; the slow cooking will soften the cabbage completely.) Turn off the heat and allow the meat to ‘settle’ for 20 minutes, then remove it from the pot, transfer it to a carving board, and keep it hot for another 10 minutes under a tight layer of foil and a cloth.

 

Using a slotted spoon, lift out the cabbage and discard as much as you can of the other vegetables. Lay a bed of cabbage on each plate, put a couple of thick slices of bacon on top, and serve the cooking liquor in a pitcher. Serve with some good mustard and a potato dish such as champ, colcannon or boxty.

 

Makes 8 servings.

 

Boxty

 

In The New Irish Table (Chronicle Books, 2003), Margaret M. Johnson offers recipes that reflect the traditions of Irish cuisine reinterpreted by contemporary cooks. Boxty is essentially potato cakes using both grated and mashed potatoes. The word comes from the Irish bac-stai, for the traditional cooking of potatoes on the hob (bac) over an open fire (stai.) Johnson gives this recipe for a boxty from a restaurant in Killarney, County Kerry, using only grated potatoes. She recommends serving it with bacon and cabbage or Irish stew.

 

Ingredients:

· 1 lb. boiling potatoes, peeled

· 1 large onion, finely chopped

· 2 eggs, beaten

· ½ tsp. salt

· ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

· Pinch of ground nutmeg

· 2 Tbsp. flour

· 2-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter for frying

 

Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, or a clean linen towel. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the potatoes into the bowl. Squeeze the cloth to extract as much of the starchy liquid as possible. Discard the starchy liquid, return the potatoes to the bowl, and stir in the onion, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the flour and mix well.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Drop the potato mixture, 1 tablespoonful at a time, into the skillet; do not crowd the pan. Flatten each cake with a spatula and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned and crisp. Transfer the cakes to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Repeat until all the mixture is used, adding more butter as necessary. Serve immediately.

 

Makes about 16 potato cakes.

 

Variation: Cut half the potatoes into 2-inch pieces. Cook the cut-up potatoes in salted boiling water for 12 to 15 minutes.

 

Irish Soda Bread

 

Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork is internationally known. It gets a lot of the credit for the Irish cooking revolution. The following soda bread from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Seasons: Cooking from an Irish Country House (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1997) takes just a few minutes to make. She suggest experiment with additions such as olives, sun-dried tomatoes or caramelized onions.

 

Ingredients:

· 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

· 1 tsp. salt

· 1 tsp. baking soda

· 1 ½ cups sour milk or buttermilk


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

 

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in most of the milk at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board and knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up.

 

Pat the dough into a round about 1 inch thick and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out. Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.

 

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the base of the bread: if it is cooked, it will sound hollow.

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