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A Celebration of Ireland

Traditional Irish Fare for St. Patrick’s Day.

Irish Stew and More

A Great Boiled Dinner

 

I 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 Day menu.


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 the offering.


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 is served.


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 alcohol.


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.

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