- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

Cooking for a crowd to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is a lot like cooking for a Super Bowl party, except that on March 17, everyone’s rooting for the same team — the Irish — and the nachos and spicy chicken wings of Super Sunday are off the menu until next season.

Instead of a football game, the main event is often a St. Patrick’s Day parade or party. So when the fans show up to celebrate, recipes need to be both easy-to-prepare and manageable to serve. And, of course, they have to be wholesome and homey, like Ireland itself.

Some of the easiest dishes use some of the most traditional ingredients, especially bacon and cabbage, two all-time favorites of Irish cooking. For years, the most important meat in Ireland has been pork, which has been enjoyed there since medieval times.

It was easy to keep a pig on the farm. And curing, or salting, was not only a good way to preserve the meat, but it also added a distinctive flavor. In Ireland, only the leg of the pig is called ham. All other parts are known as bacon or pork, whether it’s a thick slab, a loin, a joint or “streaky rashers,” which resemble American bacon but with less fat. Add cabbage — a vegetable second only to the potato in popularity — and a perfect St. Pat’s meal won’t be far behind.

Boiled bacon (not corned beef) and cabbage is among the most popular Irish dishes, and over the years I’ve learned that this combination has been reinvented in dishes ranging from tortes to terrines, not to mention as a tasty complement to chicken, salmon, even oysters.

As party fare, the two are an unbeatable team, and in many dishes, much of the prep work can be done well in advance of your guests’ arrival, allowing you to celebrate a bit yourself. For dessert, prepare a lighter-than-air fruit compote topped with an Irish Mist sabayon. Or maybe try an oatmeal-topped apple crisp.

Traditional bacon and cabbage with mustard sauce

3 pounds loin of bacon (see note)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2 sticks celery, sliced

2 leeks, white part only, washed and sliced

1 teaspoon peppercorns

2 pounds savoy cabbage, cored and shredded

2 pounds boiling potatoes

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

3/4 cup half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put bacon in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover. Add the carrot, celery, leeks and peppercorns. Bring water to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook bacon, skimming water occasionally to remove foam, for 1 hours (30 minutes per pound) or until fork tender.

About 20 minutes before the bacon is cooked, add the cabbage. Cook the cabbage for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Do not overcook. Remove bacon from the cooking liquid, transfer it to a serving dish, cover with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Drain the cabbage and keep it warm. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Cook potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and keep warm.

To make the mustard sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and mustard. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in 3/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, half-and-half, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth.

To serve, divide the cabbage onto 6 serving plates. Slice the bacon and arrange the slices on top of the cabbage. Spoon the sauce around the plate. Serve with the potatoes. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Genuine Irish bacon is made from lean pork loin and cured in a specially mixed brine. You can order it from www.irishgrub.com, a California-based company that processes 2,000 to 3,000 pounds a week. Otherwise, substitute boneless pork butt or pork shoulder.

Bacon and cabbage terrine

Tradition and invention combine in this terrine constructed of vertical layers of tender bacon and crisp cabbage. The recipe was created by chef Gearoid Lynch, proprietor of the Olde Post Inn in County Cavan, Ireland. He serves it with a creamy leek sauce, but it’s delicious with the mustard sauce in the preceding recipe.

8 smoked ham hocks

1 slice cooked ham steak, optional

1 head savoy cabbage, cored and shredded

Put the ham hocks in a large saucepan, and add cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook, skimming the water occasionally to remove foam, for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat falls away from the bone. With a slotted spoon, remove hocks from the water. (Reserve the cooking liquid and set aside.)

When the meat is cool enough to handle, pick it off the bone and discard the fat and bone. Transfer meat to a food processor, and pulse 4 to 5 times or until roughly chopped. Meat should equal 2 cups. If not, finely chop ham steak and add it to the meat.

Bring reserved cooking liquid to a boil. Add the cabbage; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly wilted. With a slotted spoon, remove cabbage and refresh in cold water. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Spread a -inch layer of cabbage on the bottom. Repeat with half the meat, another layer of cabbage and remaining meat, then finish with cabbage.

When terrine is full, pour cooking liquid over the contents. Wrap the terrine completely with plastic wrap several times, then evenly weigh it down with weights on top. (Small canned goods work well.) Refrigerate overnight. To serve, remove the plastic wrap and invert the terrine onto a platter. Cut into slices, and serve drizzled with mustard sauce, if desired. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Roast breast of chicken with cabbage and bacon

Chicken, too, can be cooked with bacon and cabbage to yield another interesting Irish dish. American-style bacon can be used here with equally satisfying results.

6 slices bacon

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 whole chicken breasts, skin on, halved

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups shredded savoy cabbage

⅔ cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons half-and-half

10 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add chicken, skin-side down, and brown lightly, 3 minutes per side. Transfer pan to preheated 375-degree oven, and cook chicken, skin-side up, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add onion and garlic, and cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add cabbage; stir to coat. Add chicken broth; bring to a boil; and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes or until cabbage is tender.

Drain cabbage (reserve the cooking liquid) and keep it warm. Return cooking liquid to pan, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until reduced by half. Add half-and-half, and cook until reduced by half again. Whisk in butter. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Strain sauce into a serving dish. To serve, divide cabbage among 4 serving plates. Arrange chicken on top, and spoon sauce over. Crumble bacon over the sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Cheddar colcannon torte

Colcannon is an Irish mashed-potato dish laced with bits of cabbage or kale. For a side dish or as part of a buffet, it combines both vegetables, along with Kerrygold Irish cheddar cheese and crisp bacon.

Butter for greasing pan

head savoy cabbage, cored and shredded

Salt

6 slices bacon

4 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into -inch slices

Freshly ground pepper

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheese, preferably Kerrygold Irish cheddar

Butter a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. In a medium saucepan, blanch cabbage in boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and plunge into cold water. Drain again; transfer to paper towels to dry.

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon; transfer to a bowl. Reserve bacon drippings. Add cabbage to the bacon, and toss gently. Sprinkle potatoes with pepper, and toss in bacon drippings.

Layer ⅓ of the potatoes in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with ⅓ of the cheese, top with half the cabbage mixture, and sprinkle with another ⅓ of the cheese. Add another ⅓ of the potatoes, the remaining cheese, then the remaining cabbage mixture.

Top with remaining potatoes. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, and bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove from oven, then let cool for 15 minutes. To serve, cut in wedges. Makes 8 servings.

Esther Dunne’s potato cake

This recipe, from Dublin’s Oliver St. John Gogarty restaurant and pub, is based on an original 1850s recipe created by Esther Dunne, a local shopkeeper. Serve it as a first course drizzled with warm cranberry sauce or as a buffet dish with meat or grilled salmon.

8 ounces boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon mixed minced fresh herbs such as tarragon, thyme or marjoram, or the same amount dried

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon dried

tablespoon ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 slice bacon, finely chopped

2 green cabbage leaves, finely chopped

Flour for dredging

1 egg

cup dried bread crumbs for dredging

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

cup whole-berry cranberry sauce, optional

Lettuce, tomato and cucumber for garnish, optional

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash. Cover and return to low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to dry out the potatoes. Remove from heat, add butter and milk, and stir until smooth. Stir in the herbs of choice, parsley, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 5 to 8 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp. Stir in cabbage, and saute for 4 to 5 minutes or until wilted. Add to the potato mixture and blend well.

Shape potato mixture into 4 evenly sized cakes. Lightly dredge in flour, then coat with 1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons water, then the bread crumbs.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil, add the cakes, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until browned. Serve immediately as a side dish, or transfer to a baking sheet and rewarm in a preheated 200-degree oven.

To serve as a first course, warm the cranberry sauce in a saucepan over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly runny.

Place 1 potato cake in the center of each plate; drizzle with cranberry sauce; and garnish with lettuce, tomato and cucumber, if desired. Makes 4 servings as a first course or side dish.

Apple and bacon salad with cheese dressing

Delicate butter lettuce substitutes for cabbage here, and chopped apple adds tang and texture.

4 slices bacon

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

⅔ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon apple cider

2 ounces peeled Camembert cheese, chopped

Dash of cider vinegar

2 small heads of butter lettuce, torn into pieces

2 teaspoons lemon juice

In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Return skillet to medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon olive oil and apple. Saute apple for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the cheese dressing, in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together sour cream, cider, cheese and vinegar. Whisk for 3 to 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Divide lettuce among 4 salad plates. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and lemon juice. Distribute warm apples and bacon over lettuce, and spoon dressing over top. Makes 4 servings.

Buttered green cabbage

Boiled cabbage is a perfect partner to meats such as ham, corned beef and chicken. This buttered cabbage dish comes topped with crisp bacon, and its neat little package shape makes for easy serving.

1 head green cabbage

4 cups chicken broth

4 slices bacon, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Freshly ground pepper

Cut cabbage into quarters, cutting through to about inch of the core. Tie quarters together with cotton string to reshape into a head. In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil, add cabbage, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Using 2 slotted spoons, gently lift cabbage out and drain.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon; transfer to paper towels to drain.

Preheat broiler. Untie cabbage quarters, and place them in an ovenproof casserole. Drizzle with melted butter, and crumble bacon over the top. Sprinkle with pepper to taste. Place under the broiler, 4 inches from the heat source, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Makes 4 servings as a side dish.

Gratin of fresh fruits with Irish Mist sabayon

This distinctly Irish version of the classic French dessert is made with Irish Mist liqueur, a blend of four distilled spirits, Irish honey and exotic herbs, instead of the traditional Marsala wine.

4 egg yolks

cup superfine sugar

3 tablespoons Irish Mist liqueur

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3/4 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 cup fresh blackberries or blueberries

Confectioners’ sugar

Mint sprigs for garnish, optional

To make the sabayon, in a double boiler, combine egg yolks, sugar, Irish Mist liqueur, white wine and lemon juice. Place over simmering, not boiling, water, and whisk for 8 to 10 minutes or until thick, pale and creamy.

To make the gratin, preheat the oven broiler. Divide raspberries, strawberries and blackberries or blueberries among six 8-ounce ovenproof bowls.

Spoon sabayon over the top, and brown lightly under the broiler, 4 inches from the heat source, for about 2 minutes, or use a kitchen blowtorch and move flame constantly over the surface until the top is lightly browned. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and garnish with mint sprigs, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Celtic apple crisp

1 cup plain bread crumbs

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) McCann’s Irish oatmeal

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

cup packed brown sugar

teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅓ cup Irish whiskey

⅓ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter to grease pan

2 pounds Granny Smith or Braeburn apples

⅓ cup sugar

To make the topping, in a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, oatmeal, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

To make the filling, in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the whiskey and ⅓ cup water to a boil. Add raisins and vanilla; stir, then remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes or until cool.

Lightly butter an 8-inch-square glass baking pan. Transfer raisins and their liquid to a large bowl. Peel, core and slice apples. Combine apples and sugar with raisins. Spoon half of the apples into the prepared dish, then top with half the bread-crumb-and-oatmeal mixture. Repeat the layers with remaining apples and bread-crumb-and-oatmeal mixture.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is crisp and browned. Remove from oven, and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Margaret M. Johnson is the author of “The Irish Heritage Cookbook” and “The New Irish Table” (Chronicle Books).

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