Growing up in an Irish American household, I was truly impressed by my dear mother’s culinary prowess. With one small trick, she could prepare any dish at all. Just boil it to death — simple.
Little wonder that I developed an interest in cooking and little wonder that Ireland has not had the best reputation in the culinary arts.
When Irish food is mentioned, most Americans will think first of corned beef and cabbage and then of fish and chips.
And there are those worldly travelers who, upon returning from Ireland, will declare that corned beef is not Irish.
Is it Irish or is it not? Well, both.
The “corns” in corned beef refer to the very coarse salt (think kernels), which were used in the preservation process that was common in Ireland and elsewhere for centuries.
The imperial British, needing to feed their subjects at home and their navies abroad while occupying Ireland, commandeered favorable Irish lands and gave them to those in the crown’s favor who were then charged with raising and “corning” beef for export.
Barrels of Irish corned beef fueled the navies of many nations, including American navies in the age before refrigeration.
But the common Irish natives, even those in proximity to such ranches and production facilities, partook little of the tasty beef because they could scarcely afford it.
Americans, and by extension Irish-Americans, fell in love with it as a now affordable source of protein, and it grew in popularity.
Fish and chips became popular among the working class in England and came to Ireland in the late 1800s.
Lamb and pork were more commonly found on the Irish table going back centuries.
Today, there is a culinary renaissance unfolding in Ireland.
It’s arising from a developing respect for the excellent quality homegrown foodstuffs that Ireland produces.
After all, she has gorgeous, pristine coastlines going on forever, providing a wonderful bounty of seafood, and there’s that endless green carpet of pastures for grazing.
The Irish are great dairymen, producing the tastiest butter and cheeses.
This March, The Old 5Mile House will be featuring delightful dishes inspired by this new Irish cuisine.
We will, of course, have corned beef and cabbage, but there is so much more to great Irish food these days. Like Guinness stout chocolate cake with Jameson’s Irish whiskey ganache and Bailey’s whipped cream.
One of my favorites is braised lamb shanks with red currant glaze; the recipe follows. Also I’ve included a recipe for colcannon — a classic Irish side dish of mashed potatoes, cabbage and bacon.
Serve them up with some buttered peas for a delectable four-star Irish meal.
And don’t forget to reserve your place for St. Patty’s Day at the 5 with live music by 1,000 Years at Sea.
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world.
Irish Lamb Shanks with Red currAnt Glaze
4 lamb shanks
1 leek, washed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 cup dry red wine
1 quart low-salt chicken stock
1 12-oz. jar of red currant jelly
2 tablespoons of oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put red currant jelly in a bowl and whisk until smooth. In an ovenproof Dutch oven large enough for 4 lamb shanks without crowding, add the oil and heat to medium high. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, brown the lamb shanks turning to brown well on all sides.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove lamb to a platter and tent with foil. Add carrots and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add leeks and the garlic and sauté for another 3 minutes. Deglaze pot with red wine scraping up all the yummy brown bits. Add the lamb shanks and any juice back to pot, the herbs and enough stock to cover or almost cover the lamb. Add a little water, if needed.
Put pot in oven with lid and cook for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until lamb is fork tender. Remove lamb to a shallow roasting pan with a rack and return to oven for 5 minutes uncovered. Meanwhile simmer pot without lid on stove over medium heat for another 30 minutes to reduce liquid to one third. Strain out solids with slotted spoon. Adjust for salt and pepper.
Brush lamb shanks with red currant glaze and return to oven for 5 minutes. Pour a pool of sauce from pot on each plate where lamb will go and place a lamb shank on top. Brush each lamb shank with red currant glaze again and serve with colcannon and peas. Pair with a hearty pinot noir or a light zinfandel.
8-10 side servings
3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 1/4 lb. sticks of Irish butter cut into pats
1 1/4 cups hot whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
3/4 lb. sliced bacon, cut into lardons
4 green onions, finely chopped
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
Boil the potatoes till tender starting with cold salted water, don’t overcook.
Meanwhile boil the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of butter in unsalted water until it turns a darker color. Cover with lid for 2 minutes. Drain thoroughly in a colander. Turn cabbage out onto a cutting board and chop into small pieces.
Drain and mash potatoes with one stick of the butter cut up into pats. Gradually add hot milk, stirring all the time. Season with a few grinds of black pepper.
Gently cook bacon in a large heavy bottom pot till it’s just getting crispy around the edges. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Add cabbage and scallions to pot and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add mashed potatoes to the pot stirring them in gently. Taste for salt & pepper and adjust as needed.
Serve beside lamb shanks. Make an indentation on the top of each serving and put 1 pat of butter into each indentation. Sprinkle with parsley.