Tag Archives: Irish Cuisine

Irish Food History

Being that today is St. Patrick’s day (who, if I recall, was the patron saint of Quality footwear), I’d figured I’d delve into what comprises Irish cuisine.

It would be easy to lump Irish Cuisine in with English, and there is some crossover. But there are also some major differences. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It might be a tad cliche to bring up the potato when talking about Ireland, but the truth is that the introduction of the tuber upon the Isle had drastic ramifications in a relatively short period of time. Consider this: the potato wasn’t even known in Europe until 1570, and didn’t hit the shores of England until 1590. But by 1770, a mere 180 years, it was considered a staple of Ireland. I could go into the details as to why…easy to grow, provided quick food for the poor, provided economic sustanence with as little as 10 acres of land…all of that you can read about elsewhere…the important thing to know is that Irish cuisine has a distinct point in its gastronomic history that should be acknowldged.

Prior to the potato, the cuisine has been best described by Denis Leary as food you slurp.”Irish Cuisine?! What are we famous for cuisine-wise? We put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, until you can eat it with a straw. SLUUURP! Thanks, Ma. Where’s dessert? Okay, there it is. SLUUURP. Thanks, Ma. It’s not a cuisine, folks. That’s penance.”

There’s much truth to that as the primary means of cooking was done with the use of a cauldron. Ovens have yet to be found by archaeologists looking into Ireland’s past. If your using a cauldron, chances are better than good that your making things such as pottage and soups. What you would put into the pot would determine the soups you made. This was determined (as is everything when it comes to food) on where you lived. This meant fish and mollusks on the coasts, game and domesticated animals inland.

Meat-wise they ate cattle and pigs, while eating goats and sheep less often. With fish, salmon was popular as well as trout, pike, perch, and other river fish. Cod, hake, whiting, mackerel and skate as well as shellfish were pulled from the sea. Being an island, Ireland has a strong seafood community, something often overlooked when thinking about typical Irish foods.

As cattle was prevelent , this means they had the cows for milk, which means cheeses and butter. Mmm.. pork fat and butter were staples of Irish cuisine. I think this explains a fair amount.

For grains, oats and barley were the most popular. Although one can mill flour from both of these grains, they don’t handle as well as say, rice or wheat flour. This might explain the lack of breads that you see elsewhere so prevelant elsewhere in Europe. The Irish had bread, just not as much of a tradition as other nations.

Vegetables? Mostly onions, celery, carrots and parsnips were found on the island, while peas and beans, kale and cabbage were introduced by others.

Once the potato was added to the diet however, things changed drastically. Soups were thickened with the potato, and it became the vegetable of choice. There are many Irish dishes involving potatoes. Colcannon is a dish made of potato and either wild garlic, cabbage or curly kale. Champ is a combination of mashed potato and egg, into which chopped scallions are mixed.

One also cannot discuss food in Ireland without touching upon class. After the introduction of the potato, the greatest increase to the population came from the poorest segment of the people. A poor family would rent between 1 and 10 acres of land for a season to grow potatoes. This enabled then to pay their rent, build a cottage and to feed themselves. While the middle and upper class could feed themselves with soda bread, apple tarts and Irish stews, the poor often would eat simply potatoes supplemented by salted herrings in winter and cabbage in summer. That’s why the Potato Famine ended up being so devastating. The dependence by 3/5ths of the counties in Ireland on one crop allowed Ireland to be set up for tragedy.

This was just a brief overview of Irish food. I didn’t even touch upon sausages and puddings, which are just about my favorite aspects of Irish foods.

Typical Irish dishes include:

  • - Bacon and cabbage: a stew made of (not surprisingly) bacon and cabbage
  • - Barm brack: a cake-like bread
  • - Dublin coddle: a think stew made from sausages, bacon, onions, and potatoes
  • - Guinness cake: a fruitcake made with Guinness beer
  • - Irish stew: basic Irish dish, made from mutton, potatoes, and onions and flavored with parsley and thyme
  • - Irish scones: A type of slightly sweet roll
  • - Irish potato pie: a layer casserole made from potatoes, bacon, and cheese
  • - Soda bread: a type of bread made with baking soda and buttermilk
  • - Potato cakes: fried mashed potato patties

Many Thanks to John Linnane’s site, from which much of this information was pulled from. Read the whole site if your big into food history.

Steak & Guinness Pie

steak and guinness pie

This is the recipe that must not be named in public. Well, not true, but when I mentioned to Tara that I was making this, her reaction was less than enthusiastic. So much so, that I was a bit sadistic in bringing up this recipe for the rest of the weekend.

Truth is, the recipe turned out a little better than I anticipated. The trick here is to understand that you’re eating a meat pie, and not some exquisite culinary treat. Keep that in mind. This is a hearty dish. This is the Irish equivalent of eating pot pies.

Except it’s made with Guinness.

I am a big Guinness fan. No doubt about this fact. This recipe gave me the excuse to purchase some to keep at home. As a bonus, I was able have a quaff or so while baking, all the while the sounds of me heartily yelling “Oi! Oi! Oi!” played in my head. I’m fairly sure this means I am all set for St. Patrick’s day.

As to the recipe: I urge you to use Canadian Bacon (if you’re here in the States…or Canada. If you’re in Ireland, you already know which bacon to use). You can use traditional American bacon, but you’ll end up with a saltier dish. The Canadian Bacon makes the pie sweeter than one could imagine.

  • 1 10″ pie shells
  • 2 lbs Round steak, diced into 1″ cubes
  • All purpose Flour
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons Lard or Crisco
  • 8 slices Canadian bacon, diced
  • 5 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 ml) Guinness Stout
  • 3 Tablespoons clover honey
  • 2 Tablespoons dried currants
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Egg White from 1 egg

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees F.

Bake base of pie shell blind (meaning weighing down the bottom of the pie crust with either pie beads or dried beans) for 10-12 minutes, ensuring the crust is starting to become golden/golden brown, but not entirely. Remove from oven and set aside. Lower the heat to 325 degrees F.

Using a large mixing bowl, combine flour with salt and pepper. Liberally dust the cubes of steak with the flour.

In a large skillet, melt the three tablespoons of lard over medium heat. Add the diced bacon and fry between 3-4 minutes. Add pieces of steak, tapping off any excess flour before placing in the skillet. Brown the meat for 8-10 minutes. Remove the beef and place the pieces into a casserole dish to cool. Leave the bacon in the skillet. In the remaining bacon and lard drippings sauté the onions until golden.

While the onions are frying, combine the Guinness, honey and currants in a medium mixing bowl. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the onions and bacon from the skillet and combine with the beef in the casserole dish. Top with the Guinness mixture and add chopped parsley. Wrap the top with Aluminum foil and place in the oven to bake for 2 and a half hours.

Remove from oven and ladle meat filling into the baked pie crust. Top with the unbaked pie shell, brush with egg whites, and place back in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until top is a golden brown. Remove from oven and sit for 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

Serves 4-6