This story was originally published March 11, 2014:
I purchase a sizable slab of Murphy & David’s Corned Beef brisket from my local Publix and slow-braise it to a tender, aromatic finish, adding potatoes and cabbage during the final stretch of cooking. We gobble it up with hearty mustard and crusty bread. Like pumpkins in autumn and hot dogs on the Fourth of July, corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day just feels right – like a delicious obligation.
This year I vow to keep it delicious, but do my best to escape the cliché. While a mighty pot of corned beef and cabbage is always welcome on my stovetop, I have new inspiration this year in the form of a trio of Irish cookbooks. These new (or months-old) books explore the culinary textures of the Emerald Isle, its seafood, greens and dairy.
Dublin celebrity chef Kevin Dundon takes a fresh approach to the food of his homeland in his “Modern Irish Food” cookbook ($24.99, Mitchen Beazley), a companion book to his 10-part public television show that airs locally on Create TV. Dundon, who also is the signature chef at Orlando’s Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant, delivers a courgette (zucchini) and almond soup that’s as spring-y as it is luxurious, and he details a fish chowder that makes healthy use of Dublin Bay prawns and fresh fish fillets that’s a cinch to make.
For a cozy Irish breakfast, he offers a simple potato bread that combines leftover mashed potatoes with flour and a little butter and turns into a skillet-cooked base for a gloriously drippy fried egg.
For her part, Darina Allen – the local foods advocate who has been dubbed the Julia Child of Ireland – gives us “30 Years at Ballymaloe” ($35, Kyle Books), a lushly photographed tome that chronicles her decades as head of Ireland’s longest-running cooking school. As her school has opened its doors to distinguished visitors from around the world, the book reflects some global inspirations that are made local by Allen’s strong focus on what’s homegrown around her.
She shares her school’s recipe for chicken pie, a gorgeously sauced, tarragon-scented filling that’s baked beneath a rustic, golden crust of puff pastry. It’s labor-intensive, but worth the work — and you can always cut the prep time by using good store-bought puff pastry.
Finally, from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association we have quite a soulful book in “Irish Country Cooking” ($24.95, Sterling Epicure), a collection of homey, yet worldly, recipes from Irish mothers and grandmothers. In the recipe intros and contributor descriptions (such as “Brid Malone: mother of five, walker and swimmer,” and “Marie O’Toole: passionate gardener and aspiring writer”), one can almost smell the aromas of melting butter and baking pies and hear the chatter of families.
Contributor Mary Fitzgerald, described as a “gardener and Internet enthusiast,” offers her recipe for a simple spinach pie that’s made light and creamy by cottage cheese. The finished pie is stunningly green — picture perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. And if you’re not ready to leave the cliche just yet, you can always wash down that pie with a mug of green beer.
ARTHURSTOWN FISH CHOWDER
This recipe is reprinted with permission from the “Modern Irish Food” cookbook, by chef Kevin Dundon, who is perhaps best known as founder and chef of the Dunbrody Country House Hotel in Wexford, Ireland. “With a large supply of fresh fish and shellfish readily available for us at the hotel, is it any wonder that we make this delicious seafood chowder so often?” he writes. “Because the chowder is so quick, there is no excuse not to make it, and the added beauty of it is that it requires no accompaniment other than a large chunk of bread.”
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 leek, trimmed and diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 potato, cubed
2 ounces smoked salmon slices, cut into julienne slices
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 ¾ cups fish stock or water
10 ounces mixed fresh fish fillets (such as cod, haddock, hake and salmon), skinned and cut into bite-sized pieces
12 raw Dublin bay prawns or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 ounces mussels, scrubbed
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 cup light cream
Salt and black pepper
Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the butter and, once it is foaming, tip in the onion, leek, carrot, potato and smoked salmon. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Pour the wine into the pan and allow the liquid to reduce by half.
Add the fish stock or water and bring to a simmer, then add the fresh fish and shellfish. Reduce the heat and return the pan to a simmer.
Add the tarragon and cream, then season with salt and black pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for a further 2 to 3 minutes until the fish and prawns are tender and all of the mussels have opened (discard any mussels that do not).
To serve, ladle the chowder into warmed serving bowls, piling plenty of the fish and shellfish into the center of each bowl. Serve with chunks of crusty bread.
“One of the nicest breakfasts or mid-morning snacks is this bread, made into traditional triangular ‘farls,’ and served with some fried eggs,” writes Dundon in his “Modern Irish Food” cookbook. “Drizzle a little oil into the pan and crack in the eggs. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook for 30 seconds. Serve on a slice of potato bread with a sprinkling of parsley.” He suggests using mashed potato that is still warm for this recipe. If you are using cold leftover mashed potato, warm it up before adding the other ingredients.
Makes 6 triangular slices
1 1/3 cups warm mashed potato
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
Place the mashed potato into a large bowl and season with the salt and black pepper.
Melt the butter and add this to the potato, then sift in the flour and mix well to make a pliable dough.
Lightly dust your work surface with a little flour, then turn the potato dough onto it and roll into a circle that is roughly ½ inch thick and 9½ inches in diameter. Now divide it into 6 triangles (farls).
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-based nonstick frying pan or griddle (ridged grill) over a moderate heat. (Traditionally, no fat or oil would be added to the pan to cook potato bread.)
Cook the farls for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.
“We make this pie from scratch, so it takes a lot of work, but there are few dishes as comforting and satisfying,” writes Irish cooking school director Darina Allen in her oversized cookbook, “30 Years at Ballymaloe,” from which the following recipe is reprinted.
Serves 6 to 8
Water or chicken stock
2 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 large onions, quartered (don’t bother peeling)
2 celery stalks, cut into small chunks
6 black peppercorns
Bouquet garni and a sprig of tarragon
1 large (5 to 6 pound) organic chicken
16 mushrooms, sliced if large
2 tablespoons butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
1 pound slab bacon, cooked
3/4 cup peas (frozen are fine), optional
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup roux (1/4 cup all-purpose flour stirred into 4 tablespoons butter over low heat)
1 cup heavy cream
18 ounces puff pastry
Egg wash (1 organic egg beaten, plus 1 tablespoon milk), to glaze
For the puff pastry (Makes about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 2/3 cups chilled all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
4 sticks (1 pound) butter, firm but pliable
To serve: green salad
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the puff pastry: Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix to form a dough with 1 to 1 1/4 cups of cold water (depending on the flour). Cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap and leave to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. Then roll the dough into a square approx. 1/2-inch thick. If the butter is very hard, beat it (still in the wrapper) with a rolling pin until pliable. Unwrap butter and shape into a slab that’s 3/4-inch thick. Put in the center of the dough and fold over the edges of the butter to make a neat parcel.
Dust your work surface with flour, then flatten the dough with a rolling pin, and roll out into a rectangle about 18 inches long and 6 inches wide. Fold into three with the sides as accurately aligned as possible. Seal the edges with a rolling pin. Give the dough a one-quarter turn (90°). It should now be on your work surface as though it was a book with the open ends facing north/south. Roll out again, fold in three, and seal the edges with the rolling pin. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling process another two times to give the dough six rolls altogether with a 30-minute rest in the fridge between every two turns. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using.
Put 2 inches of water or chicken stock in a heavy casserole and add the vegetables, peppercorns, and bouquet garni. Lay the chicken on top and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and then transfer to the oven for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the bird. Watch that it does not boil dry.
Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms in half the butter in a hot pan, and season with salt and pepper. Sweat the onions in the remaining butter in a small, covered pot until soft. Cut the cooked bacon into cubes.
Once the chicken is cooked, transfer it from the casserole to a large platter and carve the flesh. Strain and degrease the cooking liquid.
Arrange the sliced chicken in layers in 1 large or 6 to 8 individual ovenproof pie dishes, covering each layer with bacon, onions, mushrooms and peas, if using (no need to cook).
To make the sauce, put 2 1/2 cups of the strained and degreased cooking liquid and the dry white wine into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the roux. Cook until thick and smooth. Add the cream and bring to a boil again. Taste and correct the seasoning, then set aside to cool.
To assemble the pie(s), pour the cool sauce over the filling and cover with puff pastry. Decorate the top(s) with any leftover puff pastry. Have fun — we sometimes make funny faces, write messages such as “yummy” or “yippee!” Refrigerate until required. (Note: The pie can be prepared ahead up to this point.)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Just before cooking, brush the top(s) of the pie(s) with egg wash. Bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 400F and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown (the individual pies will take about 5 minutes less cooking time). Serve with a good green salad
This recipe by Mary Fitzgerald, a gardener and “Internet enthusiast” living in Wexford, Ireland, is included in the cookbook, “Irish Country Cooking” (Sterling Epicure), a collection of recipes edited by the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. Says the home cook: “Three generations of my family have eaten this dish: We used to make it to use up my father’s seasonal harvest of spinach. I now grow spinach in my own garden, along with everything from sorrel and runner-beans to beetroot and rhubarb, and make this pie regularly.”
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound 4 ounces spinach, washed
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
10 ounces cottage cheese
10 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
You will need: a 9-inch pie dish or several smaller individual pie dishes
Preheat oven to 350F.
Steam the spinach, drain well, squeezing out all the moisture. Roughly chop spinach.
In a large bowl, mix the cooked spinach with the onion, beaten eggs and both types of cheese. Beat well and season with pepper and nutmeg.
Transfer mixture to one large pie dish, or individual dishes if using. Bake in preheated oven for 25–30 minutes.
Kitchen tip: You could cheat with a large packet of frozen spinach if you don’t have any fresh spinach to hand. Simply chop and mix with the rest of the ingredients.