A Gentleman was at a restaurant in Connecticut when the owner approached him. “She said, ‘We have your favorite dish, corned beef and cabbage,’” says the chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort and Hotel in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. “But I didn’t know what the hell it was. It was the first time I had it.”
He isn’t the only Irish person confused by the stereotypes we have about Irish food. When people across the globe celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by digging into a plate of corned beef and cabbage, they’re eating a dish that isn’t actually from Ireland. “It’s considered the quintessential Irish dish, but it’s not Irish at all,” said a Dublin native and chef/partner of Hudson Hound, a modern Irish restaurant in New York City. “Corned beef is pastrami; it was brought back to the country by Irish immigrants from their Jewish delis.”
But corned beef and cabbage isn’t the only food masquerading as Irish. Visit an Irish pub anywhere and you’ll see menus filled with other dishes that are not traditionally Irish. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie; they’re in every Irish bar, but they’re more British. Some ubiquitous dishes like Irish stew are closer to the mark, but are often made inaccurately. “A lot of Irish restaurants in America serve Irish stew as a beef stew, but it’s traditionally made with lamb,” says a Dubliner and chef/owner of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. “Irish stew was made from the cheapest, poorest cuts of lamb, like neck and shin bones, plus potatoes and onions.”
A country’s cuisine is formed by many factors: agriculture, climate, economy and politics, to name a few. For Ireland, the British occupation, which ended as recently as 1922 in the south, had a major impact on not just the perception of their cuisine—and why so British and Irish dishes are so closely intertwined — but on the food Irish people had access to. During British colonization, they were very limited on what they were permitted to eat, adding that the British dictated that Irish were only permitted to eat potatoes, and weren’t allowed access to beef or seafood.
Those limitations, combined with the fact that Ireland has been a largely working-class country for much of its existence, mean many legitimately traditional Irish dishes often include potatoes and other inexpensive ingredients. “There’s boxty, a traditional potato pancake; colcannon, a blend of cabbage, onion and potatoes; and coddle, a stew made up of sausages, rashers (Irish bacon), potatoes, celery, carrots and stock. It’s the kind of dish that your mom or grandma would have on the stove all the time; it’s kind of the workingman’s stew,” says a Dublin native and food and beverage director of Bedderman Lodging in Chicago. Soda bread and brown bread also rank high on the list of Irish food, as does spring lamb, commonly eaten around St. Patrick’s Day. As for fish and chips, it’s become closely associated with the country, but is more commonly a late-night thing.
In addition to the culinary inaccuracies, Irish food also battles negative stereotypes. Bland and boring. Stodgy, overcooked and bland. Ireland always had the best ingredients, but we didn’t have a culinary background, like France or Italy. We were a poor, working-class country. We were good at a lot of things, but food wasn’t one of them. But that’s changed.
Ireland has always had is an abundance of flavorful ingredients—thanks in part to a mild climate, four equal seasons, lots of rain and its island locale—and chefs are embracing that bounty. What we’re seeing now is a drive to use ingredients that are indigenous to the island. [Because of the British occupation], it’s only in the last 20 or 30 years that we’ve seen a growing modern Irish cuisine. Ireland’s grass-fed beef, lamb, vegetables and abundance of seafood are becoming known as some of the best in the world.
Because it rains a lot, we have really good pastures. And because it’s a mild climate, [the animals] stay in the fields year-round eating grass. So the meat is really high in protein and higher in nutrients. You get great dairy, and also a great flavor beef. Ireland is a small country. You’re no more than an hour away from the ocean at any point, so there’s great lobster, oysters, mussels, plaice. There’s a tendency toward seafood.
For Irish chefs who live in the US, traveling back to Ireland means a chance to reconnect with those ingredients. “When I go to Ireland, the first thing I do is pour myself a cold glass of milk,” says Chef. “Dairy in Ireland is just delicious.” For another chef, it’s digging into the humble potato. “New potatoes out of the ground are one of the finest things I have ever eaten in my life,” he says. “We dug them out of the ground, boiled them, put some Irish butter and salt on them and it was just ethereal.” And for a third chef, it’s a toasted cheese sandwich, made with sharp Irish Cheddar on good Irish bread with a nice locally made chutney.
Source: plateonline.com; 2-28-2018