St. Patrick's Day All Year Long

By Carol Penn-Romine

Once during a St. Patrick's Day pub crawl, I saw a bruiser of a man swagger down the street wearing an ill-fitting dress and a lopsided wig, his face painted bright green. When some revelers on a balcony howled at him, he turned, lifted the back of his skirt and mooned them. We all discovered that his face wasn't the only thing he'd painted green! The partiers on the balcony roared with approval and raised their glasses filled with green-dyed beer to salute what they perceived to be his Irish chutzpah.
This didn't happen in Ireland, and quite frankly, none of it had anything to do with St. Patrick's Day. Not really. The Irish don't spend the day getting knee-walking drunk on green-dyed beer. In fact, they're not prone to paint anything green on the occasion that honors their patron saint.
Traditionally, the Irish celebrated St. Patrick's Day as Americans would Thanksgiving. Families began the day at church, then gathered at someone's home for a special meal. While the day has metamorphosed into a celebration of national pride, for the Irish it's still about the food and the fellowship.

You might be surprised to know that corned beef and cabbage, the dish we perceive to be quintessentially Irish, is not Irish at all. Corned beef was brought to the New World by Jewish immigrants, whose neighbors in cities like New York and Boston were Irish immigrants. These new arrivals couldn't afford their beloved joint of pork, so they went to their Jewish neighbors and picked up something that was affordable, available and tasty-corned beef. Historically, both beef and salt were dearly priced in Ireland, and the typical Irish family could not afford them. In fact, if corned beef had existed in Ireland, it would have been a delicacy. In America, thanks to the delicatessen, they could enjoy this treat and perhaps ease the sting of longing for their traditional foods (just one of many instances in which immigrants to America have had to make do with what they can find here to replace cherished foods they miss from home).

St. Patrick's Day is a good time to learn about Irish cuisine and share it with others. Following is a recipe for the dish Irish immigrants were yearning for, traditional bacon and cabbage with mustard sauce. With today's food production, shipping and storage, you can enjoy it year-round. Check your grocery's meat department to see if you can order a loin of bacon. And to accompany it, make up a fresh, warm loaf of Irish soda bread. Why not celebrate this St. Patrick's Day with REAL Irish food?!

Traditional Bacon and Cabbage with Mustard Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Bord Bia, a Dublin-based agency that provides information on food to Ireland and its guests

  • 3-lb. loin of bacon (called a joint in Ireland and Great Britain); no, it's not sliced!
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns

  • 1 Tbsp. Irish mustard (or stoneground)
  • 1 Tbsp. oven-dried breadcrumbs (you can cheat & use panko)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • Knob of unsalted butter, room temperature (this rather imprecise measurement is common not just in Ireland but in older American cookbooks as well; a knob of butter would be roughly the size of a walnut)

Mustard Sauce

  • 2 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Irish mustard (or stoneground)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 lbs. cabbage, cleaned, cored and finely sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Preheat the oven to 400?F.
  • Place the bacon in a large saucepan, add chopped vegetables and peppercorns, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for about 20 minutes per pound. While the bacon is simmering, mix the ingredients for the topping and set aside. When the bacon is done, remove it from the saucepan, discard the vegetables and reserve the liquid. Remove the rind from the bacon and score the fat (don't you DARE get health conscious and toss it out! Just take a walk--not a nap!--after you eat.). Place the bacon on a roasting dish and coat it with the topping. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • While the bacon is in the oven, cook the cabbage lightly in a medium saucepan with some of the cooking liquid. Drain well and toss in butter. Season to taste. Set aside and keep warm.
  • Prepare the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan and stirring in the flour and mustard. Cook the mixture for a minute or two. In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream with ? cup of the reserved liquid, then whisk this into the mustard mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Adjust to taste with salt and pepper. The sauce should have the consistency of thin cream. Set aside and keep warm.
  • Slice the bacon and serve on a bed of cabbage, topped with a little of the mustard sauce. Enjoy with fluffy mashed potatoes and a big ol' glass of Guinness.

Irish Soda Bread

Horror stories about Irish soda bread are almost as plentiful as those about fruitcake, an unfair thing to do to a lovely but misunderstood bread. Essentially, soda bread is a type of quick bread that appeared in Ireland after the introduction of baking soda in the 19th century. This chemical agent enabled housewives to get a loaf of hot bread mixed, baked and onto the table in less than an hour, making it Ireland's culinary guest of honor.
The problem with making soda bread, though, is that if you don't know a certain trick, it will come out heavy, dense and unappealing. Once you know the secret, however, you can produce a loaf that is light, fluffy and delectable every time.
The secret is this: Once you've added the buttermilk to the dry ingredients (including that all-important baking soda), you must get the dough into the hot oven as quickly as possible. If you dawdle, the buttermilk and baking soda gang up on the other ingredients, and the whole thing gets quarrelsome and toughens up. This means you must have everything ready up front, and, most importantly, the oven must be preheated to the correct temperature before the loaf goes into it. So get organized and work quickly, and the resulting soda bread will be light and airy.

Irish Soda Bread
Yield: 1 loaf

  • 3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 11/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • a scant 1/2 cup of oats (the real stuff, not those little packets of instant breakfast goo)
  • about 2 1/2cups buttermilk
Before you touch the ingredients, do the following three things first:
  1. Preheat your oven to 425degF and position the rack in the middle.
  2. Butter a sheet pan and set it aside.
  3. Lightly dust a cutting board or other smooth, clean work surface with a bit of flour and set it aside.

Now you can get down to business
  • Sift the two flours, salt and baking soda into a large bowl, mix them well, and then stir in the oats.
  • Make awell in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the buttermilk and stir to combine (add a tablespoon or two more buttermilk if it's too dry or a bit more flour if it's too wet).
  • As quickly as possible, turn the mixture out onto a lightly-floured work surface and pat it into a round of about 8 or 9 inches in diameter-this isn't yeast bread, so don't bother kneading it; just be sure it's all combined.
  • Take a sharp knife and cut an X deeply into the dough all the way across in each direction, cutting the dough almost completely into quarters. (Depending on which bit of folklore you believe, cutting the X in the dough lets out either the fairies or the evil spirits. If you see either, please e-mail me!)
  • Place the round of dough on the buttered sheet pan and bake it in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
  • Then reduce the temperature to 350degF and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when you rap the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles.
  • Move it to a rack immediately and let it cool there, so moisture doesn't condense on the bottom.
This bread is fantastic with a bowl of hearty soup, a glass of Guinness and a good semi-firm cheese, or with a simple smear of butter (not the ugly M-word!) or jam.

Many thanks to Carol Penn-Romine for this article
Carol's bio can be found here.
Please visit her website- Hungry Passport Culinary Adventures