Try some stick-to-your-ribs Irish food – it’s seriously good
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.
Guinness stew is made with Guinness or another stout beer.