Friday, March 17, 2006

Kiss me - I’m Irish (well not really, but my uncle is, and I’ve been there a few times …)

There are two Irelands in my mind – the one I experienced here in the US, primarily on St. Patrick’s Day, and the one I experienced during several visits to Ireland, mainly to and its surroundings.

The US Ireland is characterized by Green Beer, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and in general dying anything and everything green – including rivers () and entire people. Watching green haired people throw up green beer is a favorite college pastime here. As is usually the case, the US Ireland seemed to have almost nothing to do with the Ireland I found in Cork.

A few things really made an immediate impression on me.

One is that the weather there arrives horizontally. Rain doesn’t fall – it is blasted in from the ocean on the horizontal by fierce winds. An umbrella is useless – both because of the wind, and because you wouldn’t know whether to hold it up to protect your head, or out to protect your body.

Another was the language. Maybe some were speaking , maybe the south is tougher to understand than the north, I don’t know but I could not understand anyone unless they changed their speech to accommodate me. On the several occasions I tried to ask for directions – I got plenty of them, friendly well meaning directions – but I couldn’t catch a single word. I thanked them, smiled, and went on – obviously in the wrong direction.

But beautiful. When the rain stopped, as suddenly as it had begun, the City of Cork, sitting along the River Lee, was really fantastic. Although I was supposed to be there on business, made up an excuse to get out of almost a day of sitting in a room to be able to just walk around and explore.

And naturally the food and drinks. I had never had real Stout. Nor Old Irish Whiskey. The first pub I stopped into was a bit dark, with many people, but not crowded. I somehow made clear I wanted to try a Guinness – on tap (you didn’t see that in the US in those days). Some hours later (at least so it seemed to me!) I had just about decided this was their way of keeping the foreigners out – denial of alcohol. Finally it arrived – perfectly poured, perfect head. After watching for a while, it became apparent that the pouring – slowly, ever so slowly filling and refilling each glass – was integral to the eventual enjoyment of the result. Something about ensuring enough air combines with the beer – or at least that’s what I understood at the time.

And Paddy’s. I stocked up during the numerous trips through Gatwick’s Duty Free shops, though you can get it in the US now. It’s not or , but I like it.

I didn’t get to try as much food as I would have liked on those trips – and came close to starving to death - because I am too used to the 24 hour convenience found in the US. In Cork, you pretty much had to eat during some tightly defined times, or it was over. And I mean over – nothing. The one Pub consented to make a few cold sandwiches – but only because their cook hadn’t made it out the back door yet.

None the less, I really enjoyed the little time I was able to spend there, and began looking into Irish cooking. I discovered Myrtle Allen and the . She and her family run a country house / restaurant / cooking school near Cork (). Her cooking, just like my experiences with Cork itself, was unlike most of my preconceived notions. I suppose people do eat Corned Beef and Cabbage in Ireland, but I didn’t see it there. Instead I saw wonderful whole wheat and soda breads, a lot of fish and seafood, stews made with fresh lamb and mutton, beautiful sausages, interesting side dishes like Colcannon, and fresh vegetables. I often thumb through her cookbook for ideas, especially when the weather reminds me of my visits to Cork.

To me, Myrtle Allen’s Irish stew with fresh brown soda bread has become sort of the image that comes to mind when I think of Cork and Ireland. So to that end – a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Stew, with Brown Soda Bread. Of course with some Paddy’s.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew with Brown Soda Bread (serves 4)

3 lbs mutton neck chops (it’s gotta be neck chops for real Irish stew)
Fat from the chops, trimmed away and reserved
4 medium carrots
4 medium onions
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
2-3 cups chicken stock or water
4 large potatoes
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped chives
Brown Soda Bread (recipe follows)

Shred some of the mutton fat and render it down in a heavy casserole. Peel onions and potatoes (I don’t peel my carrots, but you can). Cut meat into 8 pieces, leaving on the bones. Cut the onions and carrots into quarters. Toss the meat in the fat until it is lightly browned. Remove meat and toss in carrots and onions. Sautee until they are lightly browned. Add back meat, and add stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the whole potatoes on top. Cover, and simmer gently until meat is very tender – about 2 hours. Pour off the cooking liquid into a bowl. Degrease the liquid, and reheat in another saucepan. Check seasoning. Swirl in butter, parsley and chives, and pour back over stew. Serve with Brown Soda Bread. Enjoy!

Brown Soda Bread

4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
½ cup oatmeal
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2-3 cups buttermilk (the recipe calls for sour milk here, but this works as well)

Combine the dry ingredients well. Moisten with the milk. Knead lightly. It is better to have a soft loaf with little kneading than to knead too much. Stop kneading if the dough becomes stiff. Form the dough into a round, and place it on a well floured baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top of the loaf. Bake it for 35-45 minutes in a fairly hot over (I did 375ºF).

Tags : : :
: : :


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home