Irish Fare for St. Patrick’s Day.
recently visited a local Irish eatery in Ambler and was reminded
how much I enjoy the classic fare of that great country. It
was coincidental that my visit occurred just before St. Patrick’s
Day, but I walked away inspired to prepare a traditional Irish
meal in celebration of the holiday. In recent years, Ireland
has enjoyed tremendous economic growth. As a result, the food
and restaurant scene, especially in Dublin, has grown and
been shaped by a number of global influences. However, the
more modern and cosmopolitan the food of Ireland has become,
the more I am drawn to the classic fare of the Irish countryside.
It is in this spirit that I set about to prepare my St. Patrick’s
For those who have traveled to Ireland, breakfast is the meal
that often leaves an indelible mark in their minds. So why
not start your holiday with a full Irish breakfast –
a hearty and delicious meal that can sustain you throughout
the day? It consists of eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage),
white or black pudding (the Irish equivalent of scrapple),
baked fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans. Brown bread,
marmalade, rich butter and a pot of Irish breakfast tea complete
With breakfast fueling you through a long day, we can turn
our attention to the main meal. I grew up celebrating St.
Patrick’s Day with a delicious boiled dinner complete
with corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. I still love
this mouth-watering combination, but this year I’m planning
on serving a more authentic dish of the country - Irish stew.
Since the Irish raised sheep and root vegetables for sustenance,
it is understandable that Irish stew would be made with lamb.
Lamb has a lovely, distinctive flavor that is imparted into
the potatoes, carrots, onions and broth with which it is cooked.
The shoulder cut typically used is a tougher cut of meat,
but braising it slowly over low heat yields a tender result.
And in the category of what’s old is new again, this
style of cooking is one of the hottest trends in food.
For my side dish, I am going to serve one of my favorites,
colcannon – a cabbage and potato dish that has leeks,
cream and butter. You may wonder why I would choose a potato
side dish when the stew already contains the same. After all,
here in the states a typical meal is one serving of meat or
fish, one or possibly two vegetables and one starch. In Ireland,
it is not uncommon for the meat and vegetables to be accompanied
by two or three different potato dishes. A short review of
Irish history will help you understand why this staple is
treated differently in Irish cooking.
For hundred’s of years, the potato has been Ireland’s
most significant crop. There are a number of theories on how
it came to Ireland, but it is thought to have been introduced
around the year 1600. Unlike other European countries that
had a strong and stable agricultural industry, Ireland at
the time was a war-torn land whose peasants had a difficult
time growing enough food. Because it produced more food per
acre, the potato provided much needed nourishment and fueled
the increasing population for years. In the 1840’s,
blight destroyed the potato crop resulting in a devastating
famine. Many people died, and even more fled the country in
hopes of finding a better life elsewhere. The farming industry
eventually recovered and the potato reestablished itself as
the main agricultural crop. It holds a special place in the
tradition and appetites of the Irish, reflected in how it
What is the proper drink to accompany our traditional Irish
meal? Guinness Stout is one obviously option, but I prefer
to save that for the pub. I think a festive way to get into
the spirit of the holiday is to make Harp Shandys. Mix equal
parts of Harp Lager and Seven Up and the resulting drink is
light and refreshing, a perfect counterpoint to a heavier
meal. I like to serve Club orange and lemon sodas (available
at some specialty stores) for those who want to refrain from
For many, the night is not complete without a trip to your
favorite Irish pub. You may have to brave long lines because
the allure of a good pub is irresistible to people of all
ethnic backgrounds, especially on St. Patrick’s Day.
For me, the key element of the pub – comfortable socializing
with friends – is sometimes lost with the crowds St.
Patrick’s Day usually attracts. The beauty of this holiday
is that with the Irish combination of good food, drink and
friends, there really is no wrong way to celebrate.