You can smell it before the bowl hits the table: chunks of beef, potatoes, onions and carrots, all glistening in a gravy that hints of Guinness, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. It’s the stew served at just about every Stateside pub that sports a Celtic font.
Except it’s not really Irish.
“Definitely gives people the wrong idea,” says chef-restaurateur Cathal Armstrong, who just published My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve, with co-author David Hagedorn (Ten Speed Press).
The Irish stew in their book is closer to the real deal, but even that recipe calls for the non-traditional step of first searing the meat — lamb on the bone — to give it colour.
Armstrong confirms that a thin, bland broth, onions and potatoes are the other authentic components. The only thickener is the spuds, which you’d mash with the back of your fork, he says.
And, after offering a brief history of the dish, he ends with an unlikely general assessment: “Realistically, it’s not that good.”
Armstrong suspects our pervasive pub versions have been beefed up to keep restaurant costs in line (lamb is more expensive) and to cater to American palates that are, on the whole, not into the other red meat.
The story of real Irish food was what Armstrong wanted to tell, through personal remembrance and simplified recipes. Early reviews have responded with enthusiasm. The book also reflects the journey of his flagship Alexandria restaurant, which turns 10 this year. (Not to be missed: his ode to the blue cheese of Cashel, in County Tipperary, and a savory corned beef.)
It’s a testament to modern Ireland that its cuisine can pay homage to a past marked by deprivation even as it celebrates all that’s now grown and raised in country. In Irish Table, and in two other recent Irish titles we cooked from to usher in St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll find fish pies and Dublin coddles. But odds are good that you’ll also be marking the pages for homemade bran flakes and crustless spinach pies. Erin, go brag.
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings
PREPARATION: The stew can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
1 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder
5 3/4 cups no-salt-added chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 pound russet potatoes
4 ounces carrots
4 ounces leeks
4 ounces celery
4 ounces white or green cabbage
1 medium onion
1 bouquet garni, tied with kitchen twine (a few stems parsley and thyme and a bay leaf)
Freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces home-cooked or canned, no-salt-added cannellini beans (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Cut the lamb into 1-inch pieces, discarding as much visible fat as possible as you work.
Combine the lamb and broth in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; skim off and discard any foam and fat from the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, then cut them into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the carrots well, then cut them into 1-inch pieces. Cut the white and light-green parts of the leeks into 1-inch pieces; soak in a bowl of water without disturbing them, then rinse well and drain. Cut the celery, cabbage and onion into 1-inch pieces.
Add all of the vegetables and the bouquet garni to the pot; increase the heat to high just to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the lamb is tender.
Add the cannellini beans, if using; cook for a few minutes, just until warmed through. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley.
MAKES: 6 servings
20 ounces fresh baby spinach, rinsed
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 large eggs, beaten
10 ounces low-fat cottage cheese, preferably small-curd
10 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Heat a wide saucepan of water over medium-high heat; seat a steamer basket above the water level. Place half of the spinach in the steamer. Cover and steam until just wilted, then drain and coarsely chop. Press with paper towels to remove as much moisture from the spinach as possible, then transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining spinach.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease the tartlet pans, then arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet.
Add the onion to the spinach, along with the eggs, cottage cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper and nutmeg; stir to blend well. Divide evenly among the tartlet pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until barely browned on the edges and set at the center.
Wait 5 minutes before dislodging from the tartlet pans. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with the edible flowers, if using.
MAKES: 4 servings
PREPARATION: The cooked prawns need to cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour. The potted prawns need to be refrigerated for at least 2 days (to blend the flavors) before serving.
2 tablespoons sea salt, for the cooking water
1 pound small Atlantic prawns (shrimp), peeled and deveined (40- or 60-count)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated mace
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Combine 4 cups of water and the salt in a pot over high heat. Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.
Once the salted water comes to a rolling boil, add the shrimp. Cook for no more than 3 minutes; the shrimp will be barely opaque. Use a Chinese skimmer or wide slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice-water bath. Cool and drain.
Combine the butter, anchovy paste, mace, nutmeg, lemon zest and cayenne pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the butter has melted. Add the cooked shrimp and stir to coat; cook for no more than 3 minutes, then divide the coated prawns (but not the sauce; leave it in the pan) evenly among the ramekins. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Once the shrimp has chilled, reheat the sauce over medium-low heat (so it’s pourable). Divide among the ramekins; you should be able to completely cover the prawns in each one. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 days before serving.
Cashel Blue and Toasted Pecan Terrine
MAKES: 12 servings
PREPARATION: The terrine needs to be refrigerated overnight. The jam and terrine can be refrigerated (separately) for up to 3 days.
For the terrine
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans
1 pound Cashel Blue cheese
For the jam
2 small apples, such as Bramley, Granny Smith or Pink Lady, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 heads (about 8 cups) frisee
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the terrine: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the pecans in a pie plate; toast for 10 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool completely.
Line an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overlap on all sides.
Crumble the cheese, letting it fall into a mixing bowl. Add the toasted pecans and toss gently to incorporate, then pack the mixture firmly into the loaf pan. Seal/cover with the plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least overnight or up to 3 days.
For the jam: Combine the apples, sugar, honey and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until the fruit is syrupy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring until the apples are soft and caramelized. Remove from the heat; use the back of a fork to mash into a coarse jam. Cool completely.
For assembly: Gently separate the frisee leaves and place in a mixing bowl. Add the shallot, oil and salt; toss to coat and incorporate.
Unmold the terrine; cut into 12 equal slices. Place one slice on each plate, then arrange a small mound of the salad next to it, along with a dollop of the jam.
Banana-Walnut Bran Flakes
MAKES: 5 or 6 servings
PREPARATION: The flakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
3 to 4 tablespoons dried banana chips
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the walnuts and banana chips in a food processor; process for about 45 seconds to the consistency of coarse sand.
Sift together the wheat bran, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, the water and the walnut mixture; stir to form a soft dough.
Spray one side of two large pieces of plastic wrap. Divide the dough into thirds; roll a third of the dough between the greased sides of plastic wrap as thin as possible. Carefully remove the top sheet of plastic wrap; invert the dough on the lined baking sheet, then carefully peel away the remaining plastic wrap. (You will be using the plastic wrap again.) Bake for no more than 10 minutes, checking it often after 7 minutes to avoid burning. Transfer the large, baked flake on its parchment paper to a wire rack to cool.
Line the baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper; grease the same plastic wrap sheets before each use. Repeat the rolling, baking and cooling steps to use all of the dough.
Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees.
Crack each cooled, large baked flake into smaller flakes. Arrange all on a single (lined) baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until they are dry and crisp, stirring them every 5 minutes.
Cool completely before serving or storing.
By Bonnie S. Benwick
Advocate news services