When I was in Barbados, I promised an Irishman with whom we were drinking Mount Gay rum that I would report back to the people of Vermont that Irish food is underappreciated. I tell you now: Irish food is underappreciated. I have never myself been to Ireland, nor had Irish food prepared by an actual Irish person, I’m taking his word for it. I am however the daughter of a man whose family is from Maine by way of Slovakia, so I have a soft spot in my heart for cuisines that can get creative with potatoes and cabbage. Let’s take a walk down the lane of interesting Irish or “Irish” food ideas. I am not saying this is an authentic study of Irish food culture, I am saying that when you take a premise like “Irish food is awesome” and search around for corroborating evidence, you turn up tasty dishes:
The first stop is going to be Slow Food. If I had much seaweed / foraging area along the Irish coast at my disposal, I would make side dishes from the Slow Food Ireland site (particularly the rhubarb & bladderwrack scones) or from this seaweed UK list. If you don’t think that seaweed is a super-awesome way to open a claim of delicious cuisine, you can listen to this Gastropod episode and get excited.
We should agree that in the “presence of an ocean” food contest, Ireland wins (at least over Vermont). What about use of potatoes?
The Daily Spud Blog - If you ever need a recipe for potatoes (ever, in any context) I’ve known for a while now that the Daily Spud Blog is the place to go.
Potato Fudge - The classic potato candy is, of course, the Maine Needham - but potato fudge is easier to make. This recipe calls for mashed potatoes, although really you need to rice them (or push them through a colander with a rubber spatula). I like my fudge with minced candied orange peel and walnuts.
Boxty - not only a good Scrabble work if you need something short yet impressive, it’s sort of a potato pancake, but more pancake-y than a latke - sometimes called a potato scone. Boxty can go with an Irish breakfast. The people of the United Kingdom know the meaning of “full breakfast”. It’s the sort of thing that Vice’s food section would write about and lo and behold they did in this 2016 article on an Irish pub breakfast.
I’m not going to concede that Ireland does potatoes better than Slovakia, and it’s hard to think about potatoes and not give credit to Quebec and Poutine, and those folks in Maine with the Needhams. . . not to mention, you know, Peru - which gave us all potatoes to begin with (cue another Gastropod podcast - on potatoes). Maybe it’s not a contest, maybe we can simply stand with the people of Ireland in insisting that there’s nothing amiss in building a menu on the strength of potato.
What about another international food for which everyone seems to have a different answer - ways to use up sort of stale bread. It’s an important facet of every cuisine that serves bread. You might think that New Orleans is an obvious winner with its bread pudding enthusiasm. Okay, maybe they are, but let me suggest an alternative: the humble gur cake
Gur Cake This dessert combines tea-soaked bread with dried fruit and bakes it in pastry, and has plenty of room for variation. Like using dried pears and some blackberry jam in with the concoction. Or throwing some orange zest and ginger root in when brewing the tea, amping up the spices a smidge, and topping the final pastry with drizzles of basic icing. Maple syrup is obviously a good addition. So is whiskey. I use the Milk Street pie crust designed not to shrink for my top and bottom in this recipe.
While you’re trying stale bread desserts that aren’t bread pudding, check out this variation on Egyptian Palace Bread - not Irish, but I’ve been craving it recently.
And of course we still haven’t touched the lens through which more cuisines ought to be considered - cooking with beer. I’m surprised that Guinness doesn’t have more recipes on their site, but what they do have includes lobster. Perhaps they don’t need to expand the official suggestions because so many others have compiled compelling unofficial recipes lists, like these from Real Simple (it starts with onion rings & stout gravy), BuzzFeed (including beeramisu), and the BBC (which reminded me that I like rarebit). My Guinness-braised chicken recipe is linked here.
Plus a few little tidbit food items that I enjoy:
Whiskey Cured Salmon - okay, okay, this recipe is for sazerac salmon, but Irish whiskey also works.
Speaking of Irish whiskey, I’m pretty sure Paddy is getting hip . . .and if it isn’t, it should. I’ve appreciated this whiskey ever since I went to a wine tasting and asked the wine shop’s owner if he had anything a bit stronger, and he pulled a bottle of Paddy from the bottom drawer of his desk and poured me a wineglassful.
Phew. Now. There's a start. Consider all the additional specialties you could be introduced to by an actual Irish person, or even someone who had once visited Ireland! I’ve done the best I can by this cuisine and there’s an Irishman somewhere out there living in Haiti and occasionally visiting Barbados who owes me another drink.