10 March 2020 · Author Profile
With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching we wanted to learn about traditional Irish food and reached out to David Bowers, the author of Real Irish Food, to find out more. He shares a few favorite dishes along with recipe ideas for celebrating Paddy’s Day in a more traditional way.
I felt that so much of what people think is actual Irish food isn't anything we ever truly eat. Corned beef and cabbage, for example — I know Irish-Americans love it but it's not something I grew up eating nor even saw very often. It's common in parts of the Southwest, but not something we eat all over Ireland. When it's on the menu at an Irish pub, it's often there for the tourists! But there are a LOT of classic Irish foods that are really delicious and exciting and worth knowing about, so that inspired me to try to bring the foods that I love from home to a wider audience in America.
It's not all potatoes, of course! But there are many and varied things that we do to a potato, or with pork. The classic Irish fry-up is almost like a chef's meditation on pork: rashers, sausages, black pudding, white pudding. I have long thought that, traditionally, having a sort of limited range of basic ingredients to work with has inspired the best Irish cooks to really dive deep into the ingredients and bring out exciting flavors.
When I was young, it was largely a religious holiday, believe it or not. We would go to mass in the morning and sometimes there would be a parade, but it would be very small. It was also important to wear a piece of shamrock on the day. Over the years it has become a huge celebration and nearly every town in Ireland has a parade. Dublin has turned it into a three-day celebration and people come from all over the world. Now we go to the pub and people have parties, it's far more fun than when I was a kid.
Try the Roast Potatoes, which is something we consider a major treat, no holiday table is complete without roasties! Champ is mashed potatoes with butter and scallions, and Colcannon has finely chopped, cooked kale and a whole lot of butter. Irish potato pancakes are a particular favorite at my house: you mix leftover mashed potatoes with a little flour and butter, and cook it in a skillet and serve it with more butter. Butter and potatoes are a match made in heaven and I really recommend trying it with actual Irish butter, which is now widely available in America.
I miss the sausages and black pudding in particular — that's something that's hard to find outside Ireland and it never tastes quite the same elsewhere. A full Irish "fry-up," as we call it, is rashers, sausages, maybe black and white pudding, with maybe a fried tomato or some mushrooms. Some people like it with a spoonful of baked beans on the side, and of course toast with butter. In my book, there's a recipe for making traditional Irish sausages using finely ground pork and breadcrumbs and seasoning, and they're pretty good, definitely worth trying if you're curious about "a fry" and how it tastes.
Instead of corned beef and cabbage, this Paddy's Day you should try Beef and Guinness. It's a very traditional dish, a rich beef stew whose flavor is deepened by the addition of a whole bottle of Guinness. It actually tastes better if you make it the day before. And be sure to use a bottle of Guinness instead of a can, it makes a real difference to the flavor!
I love the Whiskey Chicken in my book — it's more like "restaurant" Irish food, where you roast a chicken, deglaze the pan with cream and flame it with a shot of whiskey. It's easy and dramatic to set the whiskey alight, which is what we always do with Christmas puddings, and the flavor of roast chicken with whiskey and cream sauce is unbeatable.
Real Irish Stew is always made with lamb, and the recipe in my book tastes just like the version my dad used to make. He was from Dublin and was an excellent cook and he made it the way his mother made it, with little dumplings added to the stew in the end. It's a little unusual but authentic and delicious.
An unusual vegetable dish that I love is carrots and celery in a white sauce. Americans don't eat cooked celery as a vegetable, they generally prefer it raw, but it's one of my favorite side dishes. It's very colorful with the orange and green vegetables in the white sauce, and it's a little like the Irish flag, so it's a perfect dish for Paddy's Day.
For kids, I highly recommend Yellow Man. It's a cross between a dessert and a science experiment. It's a boiled sugar candy to which you add baking soda, which makes the whole thing foam up. You pour it onto parchment paper or a buttered baking sheet, and it sets as it cools so you can break it into big chunks to eat. It's one of my favorite sweets from childhood and something you'd always get at country fairs when I was young.
David Bowers is a food writer and photographer. He writes an award-winning grilling column for Cabin Life magazine, and he is the author of Bake It Like a Man, Dad’s Own Housekeeping Book, and Real Irish Food. Bowers lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.