Try some stick-to-your-ribs Ir­ish food – it’s se­ri­ously good

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Food - BY DANIEL NEMAN

I know what you’re think­ing. You’re think­ing: Ir­ish food? Se­ri­ously? Yes, Ir­ish food. Se­ri­ously. It is true that Ir­ish food is the butt of many jokes, and for good rea­son. The Ir­ish will put pota­toes in dishes that are bet­ter off with­out them ( potato and ap­ple pud­ding), they eat parts of an­i­mals that you wouldn’t think of eat­ing (stuffed lamb hearts) and they do fright­en­ing things to fish.

But then there is Ir­ish stew. And there is Ir­ish stew’s cousin, Guin­ness stew. And there is col­can­non.

And there is barm­brack, though to be per­fectly hon­est I had never heard of barm­brack un­til I started do­ing re­search for this story. I found sev­eral recipes for it, and I thought, “Hey, this sounds good.”

Barm­brack is a tra­di­tional bread that is briefly men­tioned in James Joyce’s “Dublin­ers.” It is a slightly sweet bread with raisins and bits of can­died fruit in it. It’s what fruit­cake would be if it were bread. It’s fruit­bread.

It is also ter­rific. You can make it yeasty, but the loaf I made was nicely dense and stud­ded with the can­died fruit. A blend of spices added just a hint of mys­tery.

It tasted a lit­tle spe­cial, like the kind of thing you would serve at a hol­i­day or cel­e­bra­tion. And in fact, a vari­a­tion of it is of­ten served at Hal­loween. But it can also be served as an every­day sort of bread or a sub­tle dessert.

If it’s good enough for James Joyce, it’s good enough for me.

Next, I made Ir­ish stew, which is a tes­ti­mony to man’s abil­ity to cre­ate great food out of very lit­tle.

Lamb – which is still com­mon in Ire­land – pota­toes (of course), car­rots, leeks, cel­ery, chicken stock and a sprin­kling of thyme are all that are needed to make a stun­ning, hearty, mem­o­rable meal.

Yet it is sur­pris­ingly easy to make. Ir­ish stew is just a stan­dard stew with one ex­cep­tion – you be­gin by boil­ing the pieces of lamb (see Ir­ish food jokes, above).

The broth you get when you make the stew is thin, but that turns out to be de­cep­tive. Ir­ish stew is a sub­stan­tial, stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish that can get you through the cold­est and dampest of win­try nights.

Guin­ness stew is much the same but also very dif­fer­ent. Even their in­gre­di­ents are sim­i­lar, but the two main ex­cep­tions make all the dif­fer­ence. The first is the choice of meat, beef in­stead of lamb – and no, it is not boiled. The sec­ond is the choice of cook­ing liq­uid: In­stead of stock, it uses Guin­ness.

The re­sult is a stew that is just as ro­bust as Ir­ish stew, but deeper and richer in fla­vor. You don’t even taste the Guin­ness at all; it sim­mers into an uniden­ti­fi­able umami fla­vor that en­hances the taste of beef.

Fi­nally, I made col­can­non, which strikes me as the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of Ir­ish cook­ing. It is an ir­re­sistible com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery food that the is­land is fa­mous for.

It takes pota­toes, cab­bage and leeks, sim­mers them (the leeks are sim­mered in milk) and then mashes them all to­gether. And then, to make it fab­u­lously rich, it stirs in but­ter.

In Ire­land, they use Ir­ish but­ter. Ir­ish but­ter dif­fers from Amer­i­can but­ter in sev­eral ways, in­clud­ing a higher per­cent­age of but­ter­fat. In other words, when they make it in Ire­land, it is even richer. But don’t worry. The Amer­i­can ver­sion is plenty rich, too.

And how does it taste? It’s com­fort­ing. It’s like your mother wrapped you in a warm blan­ket and you are sit­ting in an over­stuffed chair in front of a crack­ling fire while drink­ing hot cho­co­late with a cat in your lap. Se­ri­ously.

HIL­LARY LEVIN St. Louis Post-Dis­patch

Guin­ness stew is made with Guin­ness or an­other stout beer.

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