Mary Donovan, the editorial project manager at the Culinary Institute of America, grew up in an Irish-American family. “We ate a lot of potatoes; we mainly ate them baked or roasted,” she admits. “Apparently, it was to honor my grandfather, who would go off to school each day with a hot potato in his pocket.”
Donovan’s favorite potato dish is champ — “mashed potatoes mixed with a lot of scallions and a good amount of butter. They are so delicious.” Other treats that her family enjoyed when she was growing up included beef brisket braised in Guinness and a traditional Irish whiskey cake. “Irish food has traditionally had a bit of an image problem,” says Donovan. “Nobody thought it was very good. Thankfully, that is starting to change because there is something truly remarkable about Irish food. They’ve always used fresh ingredients.”
Donovan credits some of this sea change to people like Darina Allen — Ireland’s answer to Martha Stewart (with a bit of the Pioneer Woman thrown into the mix, too). Allen, a chef, TV personality, and founder of the famed Ballymaloe Cookery School, recently released a new edition of Irish Traditional Cooking. We think her beef and Guinness stew sounds like the ideal way to get your green on this year. Here’s the recipe.
Beef and Guinness Stew
Guinness, Ireland’s famous black stout, has been brewed in Dublin since 1759. It has a very special place in Irish life. Nowadays the “liquid food” is used increasingly in cooking. It is a tasty addition to stews and casseroles, helping to tenderize the meat and imparting its distinctive malty flavor to any dish. This recipe makes a wonderful gutsy stew, which tastes even better a day or two after it is made.
- 2 lb lean stewing beef
- 3 tbsp oil or drippings
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 large onions (about 10 oz), coarsely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed (optional)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste, dissolved in 4 Tbsp water
- 1¼ cups Guinness
- ¾ cup carrots, cut into chunks
- Sprig of thyme
- Chopped parsley
To make the stew:
- Trim the meat of any fat or gristle, cut into two-inch cubes, and toss in a bowl with one tablespoon oil.
- Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in this mixture.
- Heat the remaining oil or drippings in a wide skillet on high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic, and tomato paste to the pan, cover, and cook gently for about five minutes.
- Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness into the skillet. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.
- Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary.
- Cover with casserole lid and simmer very gently until the meat is tender — two to three hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a 300ºF oven. Taste and correct the seasoning.
- Scatter with lots of chopped parsley and serve with champ, colcannon (previous page), or plain boiled potatoes.
At Blue Mountain Bistro to Go in Kingston, they do serve corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. But by far the most popular Gaelic treat on the menu on March 17 is the colcannon. “Some people have never heard of it; some people have heard of it but don’t know what it is,” says chef and co-owner Richard Erickson. This traditional Irish dish, originally eaten on Halloween, mainly consists of mashed potatoes mixed with either kale or cabbage. “You can use collards and leeks too,” says Erickson. “Any green that you can pull out of the garden in the winter will work. People often take it home as a side dish. It’s really good. In fact, sometimes we don’t wait for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Chef Erickson’s Colcannon
- Mash potatoes (he prefers Carola spuds) in your normal fashion.
- Take a bunch of leeks, chop them fine, and soak in water to clean out the sand. Drain, then sweat them in a pan on top of the stove, sautéing with some butter, salt, and pepper until soft.
- Chop kale and savoy cabbage (the queen of all cabbage) into horizontal strips about one inch wide and put into a deep pot with about one inch of water in the bottom. Steam until the vegetables are tender, and drain off the excess water.
- Toss in some olive oil, salt, and pepper and stir into the potatoes along with the leeks. Check the seasoning, and voila! Colcannon!
So What Is Irish Oatmeal?
Irish oats are simply steel-cut oats — whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into only two or three pieces. They are commonly grown in Ireland and Scotland. Alternately, rolled oats (think the Quaker Man) have been steamed and run between rollers to create flakes. Many think that because Irish oats are the least processed, they offer superior nutritional value — but some nutritionists don’t think there is much difference. But two things are for sure: Irish oats have a nuttier taste, and take longer to prepare.