- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Long before Michelin began anointing Irish chefs with stars, pub grub — simple sandwiches, thick soups,hearty stews, jacket potatoes, salad plates and big joints of meat — was considered quintessential Irish food.Writing about it 20 years ago, tourism expert Arthur Frommer said, “The Irish never were great eaters. Big eaters, yes, gourmets, no. Potatoes and buttermilk were the great staples before the Irish famine, and even in current, more prosperous times, the Irish have prided themselves on being meat-and-potato people — ‘nothing fancy’ — with a great taste for thick slabs of brown bread and apple tart.”

What Mr. Frommer was talking about was pub grub — hearty food that, despite its apparent simplicity, has developed into a cuisine in its own right. The term “gastropub” was recently coined in the United Kingdom to describe those pubs that turn out good meals as easily as they pour good drinks.

Much like a French bistro or an Italian trattoria, where locals gather for unpretentious food, the Irish pub, of which there are an estimated 11,000 in the Republic of Ireland, 1,650 in Northern Ireland, and more than 1,000 in Dublin alone, is the country’s leading exponent of good-value meals, hospitality and tradition.

Public houses date to medieval taverns, coaching inns and shebeens (illegal drinking dens that flourished under colonial rule). A rural Irish pub might be an extension of the village shop, serve as the local post office or even be an extension of a funeral parlor. They are, perhaps, the best expressions of Irish life and culture, and no visit to Ireland is complete without at least a visit to one to see firsthand how a barman draws a proper pint; to experience the “craic” (pronounced “crack”), the Irish expression for fun; and, of course, to sample the food for which the country is renowned: pub grub.

Visitors have come to expect bacon and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, seafood chowder and apple tarts, but today’s pub grub might also include deep-fried farmhouse Camembert cheese with Cumberland sauce; a ploughman’s lunch with tangy tomato chutney; warm scallop salad; beef and vegetable pepper pot; and cheesecake flavored with Irish cream and stout.

Why not bring some of these new Irish favorites to your St. Patrick’s Day table this year, close your eyes and wish you were there? Slainte agus go marfaidh sibh an ciad. (“Good health and may you outlive 100 years.”) The recipes that follow are adapted from my newest book, “The Irish Pub Cookbook” (Chronicle Books).

Deep-fried St. Killian cheese with Cumberland sauce

St. Killian is a Camembert-style cheese made in County Wexford. Deep-fried in beer batter, cheeses like this are served in pubs with homemade Cumberland or cranberry sauce, which is best prepared a day in advance to let the flavors meld. You can substitute another brand of Camembert for the St. Killian.

CUMBERLAND SAUCE:

2 oranges

1 lemon

5 tablespoons port

1 10-ounce jar red currant jelly

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon dry mustard

FRIED CHEESE:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup flat beer, room temperature

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 large egg, separated, room temperature

2 8-ounce rounds Camembert

Canola oil for frying

Mixed salad greens for garnish

To make the Cumberland sauce, use a vegetable peeler to peel zest off the oranges and lemon. With a sharp knife, shred as thinly as possible. Put zest into a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, or until zest starts to soften. Drain and set aside.

Squeeze juice from oranges and lemon into a small saucepan. Add port, jelly, ginger and mustard, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until mixture is reduced by half. Transfer sauce to a small bowl and stir in reserved zest. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 weeks. Makes about 1½ cups sauce.

To make the fried cheese, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, beer, salt and oil. (There will be a few small lumps.) Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for about 3 hours. Stir in egg yolk. In a small bowl, beat egg white with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold into the beer batter.

Cut each round of cheese, rind and all, into 8 pie-shaped slices, then cut each slice crosswise in half. In an electric (or other heavy) skillet, heat about 2 inches of oil to 325 degrees. Dip cheese pieces, one at a time, into beer batter. Drop into hot oil and cook in batches, turning as necessary with a wooden spoon, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove each piece as soon as it’s browned, and drain on paper towel.

To serve, spoon Cumberland sauce into small ramekins or dishes and place each one in center of a salad plate. Arrange mixed greens around the ramekin and place 4 pieces of cheese on top of the greens. Makes 4 servings.

Ploughman’s lunch with tomato chutney

A ploughman’s lunch is a traditional salad made with cold sliced meat most often chicken, turkey, ham or roast beef and a few slices of cheddar cheese. In Irish pubs, it’s generally accompanied by a serving of coleslaw or chutney, a few slices of tomato, cucumber, apple or pear, and served with a basket of brown soda bread or crusty French bread.

TOMATO CHUTNEY:

1 cup sugar

1½ cups cider vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1½ pounds plum tomatoes, quartered

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup golden raisins

Freshly ground pepper

PLOUGHMAN’S LUNCH:

4 ounces mixed salad greens

Prepared vinaigrette dressing

8 to 12 slices honey-baked ham, cut in triangles

8 to 12 slices Kerrygold Vintage Cheddar cheese, cut in triangles

1 tomato, cut in wedges

½ red onion, grated

1 carrot, julienned

1 cucumber, sliced

8 to 10 black olives

Brown soda bread or French bread for serving

To make the chutney, in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine sugar, vinegar, salt, cardamom, ginger, mustard seeds and cloves. Slowly bring mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, raisins and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 to 11/4 hours, or until mixture is thickened. (After a few minutes’ cooking time, the tomato skins will separate from the pulp. Remove skins with a fork and discard.) Spoon chutney into a clean jar or bowl, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

To compose the salads, divide mixed greens among 4 salad plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Arrange slices of meat and cheese over greens and garnish with tomato wedges, red onion, carrot, cucumber and olives. Spoon chutney into a ramekin and serve with salad and bread. Makes 4 servings.

Warm scallop salad with cider dressing

Bulmers, a fermented drink often called “hard cider,” is Ireland’s leading brand. In the United States, it is marketed as Magners, a name that can be traced back to the company’s origins, when William Magner started to ferment cider in Clonmel, County Tipperary. This scallop salad is often featured in pubs as a luncheon special.

CIDER DRESSING:

1½ cups Magners Irish cider or a similar brand of fermented cider

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup sunflower oil

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

SALAD:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds sea scallops

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head Bibb or Boston lettuce, shredded

1 avocado, peeled and diced

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

To make the dressing, in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring cider to a boil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until reduced by about two thirds. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Whisk in mustard, sunflower oil, hazelnut oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To start the salad, in a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook scallops, turning once or twice, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until opaque. Remove immediately from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To compose the salads, in a large bowl, toss lettuce, avocado, apple, parsley, dill and chives with half the dressing. Divide into neat piles in centers of 4 salad plates and top with scallops. Drizzle remaining dressing over top and add a few grindings of pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Beef and vegetable pepper pot

A popular alternative to Irish stew or beef and kidney pie, this beef and pepper dish originated at the Mills Inn, a country pub in Cork. It’s delicious with cheddar-herb biscuits.

BEEF PEPPER POT:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound beef tenderloin, cut in thin strips

1 red onion, sliced and cut in thin strips

½ Spanish onion, sliced and cut in thin strips

1 clove garlic, minced

½ red bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

½ green bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

2 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths and lengthwise in thin strips

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups homemade beef stock or canned low-sodium beef broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Minced fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

CHEDDAR-HERB BISCUITS:

2½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter, cut in pieces, plus extra for serving

4 ounces Kerrygold Vintage Cheddar (1 cup), grated

2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs such as parsley, rosemary and tarragon

1 large egg

11/4 cups buttermilk

To make the beef-pepper pot, in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook beef for 3 to 4 minutes, or until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer beef to a plate and set aside. Add onions and garlic to skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Add bell peppers, celery, tomato paste, stock or broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until peppers are tender and sauce has thickened. Stir in beef and cook until heated through. To serve, ladle into shallow bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

To make the biscuits, butter a 12-cup (1/3-cup capacity) muffin pan. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt in a food processor. Pulse 2 to 3 times to blend. Add butter and process for 10 to 15 seconds, or until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add cheese and herbs, and pulse 2 to 3 times to blend. Add egg and buttermilk and process for 10 to 20 seconds, or until a soft dough forms. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 to 23 minutes, or until biscuits are lightly browned and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter. Makes 1 dozen biscuits.

Irish cream and stout cheesecake

This inventive cheesecake, a version of which is served at the White House in Kinsale, County Cork, is flavored with Irish cream and drizzled with a Murphy’s stout syrup. Serve it with mixed fresh berries for a decadent finish to any St. Patrick’s Day meal.

CRUST:

2 cups crumbs from Irish digestive biscuits or wheat biscuits, such as Carr’s or McVitie’s brand (12 to 14 biscuits)

3 tablespoons unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter, melted

FILLING:

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup sour cream

1/3 cup Irish cream liqueur

4 large eggs

TOPPING:

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

SYRUP:

1 cup Murphy’s or Guinness stout

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Fresh berries for garnish

To make the crust, in a small bowl, combine crumbs and melted butter. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch round springform pan. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. Maintain oven temperature.

To make the filling, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a food processor. Process for 10 to 20 seconds, or until smooth. Add sour cream and Irish cream liqueur, and process for 5 to 10 seconds. Add eggs, one at a time, processing after each addition.

Pour filling over biscuit crust. Bake for about 55 minutes, or until edges are puffed and center is almost set. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

To make the topping, in a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and sugar. Spoon over the warm cheesecake and bake for 10 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To make the syrup, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring stout to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, or until mixture is reduced to about ½ cup. Stir in brown sugar and cook for 5 minutes, or until mixture is syrupy.

Remove from heat and let cool. When ready to serve, release side of pan and cut cheesecake into slices. Drizzle some of the syrup over each slice and garnish with fresh berries. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

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


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