They say no bread is ever as good as
your mammy’s, no dinner ever as rewarding. There’s truth in the saying.
Irish emigrants know that a really well made soda bread is a little bit of the old sod. There’s a real magic in it.
For centuries homesick Paddies have tried to recapture the magic of the meals they once had back home, but these days, thanks to international imports, you stand a better chance than ever of making the brown bread that you’ve been dreaming of since you arrived on these shores.
Irish cooking takes basic but taste-wise surprisingly complex ingredients that turn ordinary dishes into something so tasty and memorable that you’ll want to make them over and over.
Unlike our near neighbors, the Irish generally prefer to fry, bake and roast rather than boil, and the results are delicious. For St. Patrick’s Day I’d like to introduce you to some go-to recipes I swear by.
Let’s start with something so simple a child could make it, but this is an everyday treat that grown ups will love too. Prepare for some oohs and aah’s when you put this on the table.
Americans know that pancakes are for every day, not just Pancake Tuesday. But their big flat wagon wheels require a mountain of maple syrup and condiments to make them sing.
The Irish version, often called Drop Scones, is easier to prepare and much tastier. Here’s Rachel Allen’s version of the recipe from "Favorite Food at Home."
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
2 table spoons of superfine sugar
1 cup of milk
1 pat of butter
Sieve the flour into the bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Crack and whisk the egg, then drop it into the bowl. Add the milk and stir. The texture you’re looking for is halfway between firm and runny.
Place the frying pan over a medium heat (check not to overheat) and toss in one pat of butter. Drop the batter into the pan a tablespoon at a time. The batter will rise and spread. When air bubbles appear on the tops turn them over.
Irish pancakes are served with butter and the best organic raspberry jam you can find. Alternatively you can serve them with sugar and lemons (but why you’d want to I don’t know). Place these in front of Irish people and they’ll be devoured in ten minutes.
STAYING with the breakfast theme, Irish people love eggs in the morning. Irish people also love spuds.
Here’s a recipe that’ll make it a morning to remember. Irish cook Sheila Kiely has crafted this version called Irish Fritta in her book "Gimme the Recipe."
8 bacon rashers
10 button mushrooms
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 leftover cooked potatoes
Salt and pepper
2 spring onions
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Fresh parsley or chives to garnish
Turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an ovenproof casserole or baking dish with a little butter.
Chop the rashers into bite sized pieces. Wash the mushrooms and chop slice them. Fry the bacon and mushrooms in a little olive oil for four minutes.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Then add the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Chop the cooked potatoes into bite sized chunks. Add the chopped spring onions to the bacon and mushroom and cook for two minutes under a medium heat.
Tip all the contents into the casserole dish, then cover over with the egg mixture. Bake for 15 minutes until the egg has risen slightly and set. Serve with a garnish of chopped fresh chives or parsley and a side of dressed salad leaves.
BETTER than any potato chips you’ll ever have tasted, try these delicious crispy potato skins. If you have a mutinous horde shouting, “When’s dinner ready?” this will keep them quiet until you can get your work done.
6 to 8 medium organic potatoes
(1 to 2 per person)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Quarter cup of grated cheddar cheese
Sriracha hot sauce to wake it up
Preheat the oven to 400. Wash and dry the potatoes with a kitchen towel.
Peel the potatoes and place the peel on a large baking tray. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes until they are crispy.
Grate the cheddar cheese and over the peel and return to the oven for a further three to five minutes. Spice them up with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper or Sriracha hot sauce, as you prefer.
SOUPS are the most important dish in your battle against cold and flus. Try this simple restorative broth and serve it with some homemade bread for a real treat. This recipe for Irish peasant soup is an amalgam of two by Rachel and Myrtle Allen.
½ cup of smoked bacon pieces, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of potatoes peeled and diced into quarter inch pieces
1 medium onion
2 celery stalks
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
1 14 once can of chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt and pepper
3 ½ cups of chicken stock
3/4 of a cup of chopped Savoy cabbage
3 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley
Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry for three to five minutes until crispy. Add the potatoes, onions, thyme, celery and garlic and stir. Decrease the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cabbage and simmer until just tender, taste for seasoning, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
IRELAND is an island nation and fish is one of the dishes we serve best. Try this outrageously tasty dish of pan fried mackerel with herb butter by Rachel Allen for a true taste of home.
8 mackerel fillets with the skin on
2/3 of a cup of all purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of butter, softened
For the herb butter:
½ cup of butter, softened
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs
(try thyme on its own or add what you fancy)
1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
To make the herb butter, cream the butter in a bowl and add the chopped herbs and lemon juice. Roll it into a sausage shape and wrap in waxed paper. Put it into the freezer to chill it quickly.
Place the frying pan over a high heat and wait for it to get very hot. When it is, dip the fillets in then seasoned flour and shake off the excess. Drop a little of the seasoned butter in the pan and place the flesh sides (not the skin sides) in the pan.
Cook for a couple of minutes until golden and crisp, then turn over and cook for another two to three minutes, turning down the heat if the pan is getting too hot. Serve on plates with one or two slices of herbed butter melting on the fish and with a wedge of lemon on the side.
WANT to turn your kitchen into a cottage in Donegal? Bake Ballymaloe brown bread. This recipe is an improved version devised by Myrtle Allen, founder of the now legendary Ballymaloe House Hotel and Cooking School in Co. Cork.
3½ teaspoons of dry yeast
1 1/4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of molasses
3 3/4 cups of cups of stone ground whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
Grease an 8-inch by 2.5 inch loaf pan with butter and warm it in a preheated 450 degree oven, for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the yeast into 2/3 of a cup of the water in a bowl. Leave for five minutes, stir to dissolve. Add the molasses. Leave for 10 minutes, until frothy. Add the remaining water and stir.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast. Stir in the flour to form a thick batter. Use your hands here to mix the batter gently in the bowl for one minute, until it begins to leave the sides of the bowl clean and forms a soft, sticky dough (you may need to add a little more water).
Place the dough in the prepared pan and cover with a dishtowel. Proof (allow it to rise) until the dough is one inch above the top of the pan, which takes about 25-30 minutes.
Bake in the preheated oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, and then lower the oven to 400 and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the loaf out of the pan and onto a baking sheet. Return the bread, bottom side up, to the oven. Bake for a further 10 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Let cool on a wire rack.
Practice is the key to this recipe so persevere and you’ll be a baker in no time!