I have long argued that British cuisine has not been given its fair due. (See “The Best of Britain” September 2007 for further rantings on this subject.) Well, now it’s time for me to argue in favor of the Irish, too.
On a recent trip through Ireland I experienced firsthand the country’s culinary renaissance. Whether in the Republic or in Northern Ireland, the menus featured fresh, seasonal, and locally produced foods. Fish caught right off the coast. Cheese made down at the town shop. Eggs laid in the innkeeper’s backyard. It couldn’t get much fresher or more locally produced than that.
Irish cooks seemlessly melded the old with the new. Take creamy leek and potato soup. Intead of pairing it with the customary hunks of brown soda bread, the soup was partnered with micro greens or a salad of frisee, arugula and radicchio. No more bland iceburg lettuce or pale pink tomatoes in this land.
At the bright and cheery The Farm on Dawson Street in Dublin the updated fare was organic, all natural and utterly delicious. The salmon came with sides of sauteed spinach, mashed potatoes, and roasted tomato confit. The “no burger burger” consisted of a thick Portobello mushroom dressed in melted Brie and placed between thick wedges of tomato foccacia bread. From wine to coffee the drinks were likewise organic and tasty.
On the north coast of Northern Ireland the Bushmills Inn offered a new twist on a classic dish, onion soup. Made with a stock of Guinness and served with a parmesan-crusted crouton floating in the middle, this surprisingly light yet flavorful first course sounded all the right notes. It preceded another hit, a maple glazed filet of salmon resting on a bed of sauteed bacon and savoy cabbage. Surrounded by a chestnut mushroom cream sauce, the salmon was a gustatory delight. The timeless British dessert, warm sticky toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce, capped off the night.
Desserts are my favorite part of any meal and never more so than in Ireland. Puddings. Crumbles. Trifles. Pies. Banoffee, or toffee and banana, pie was a popular offering. Whether topped with carmelized bananas, shaved chocolate, or a drizzle of toffee sauce, this sweet, chilled treat never failed to please.
While renowned for its traditional, filling breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms and possibly a side of boxty or brown bread, Ireland also had lighter and more creative morning fare. At Dublin’s Elephant and Castle - no relation to the mediocre American chain – I began the day with a glass of kir royale and a plate of poached eggs accompanied by sauteed wild mushrooms, toasted muffin, chopped chives and a creamy madeira sauce. If only all mornings were this festive.
Along with Ireland’s updated classics and new creations, there were a host of other cuisines to explore. Suffice to say, I could have spent another six months on the island and still not sampled all the glorious food.
My own version of this classic Irish dish.
1 pound Idaho potatoes, washed, peeled, cut into chunks and boiled
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
1 pound Idaho potatoes, washed and peeled
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
1 cup buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons butter, for frying the boxty
Mash the boiled potatoes with 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup of milk. Set aside.
Using a box grater, grate the other pound of potatoes into a bowl. Strain or squeeze out the liquid from the grated potatoes then add them, along with the flour, baking soda and buttermilk, to the mashed potatoes. Stir well to combine then sprinkle in the black pepper and stir again. The batter should be quite thick.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, non-stick skillet.
With either a 1/4 cup measuring cup or small ladle, pour the batter onto the fraying pan. Cook the cakes on medium heat until the batter has bubbled and appears slightly dry, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides. Place on a platter and serve immediately. Makes approximately 18 potato pancakes.