Most people regard Irish cuisine as very bland, not having a lot of pizazz to it. Yet what it perhaps lacks in innovation is made up on the many levels of “comfort” it offers eaters. When I visited Ireland in 2009, my favorite meal was bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) that I had at the Brazen Head, one of the oldest pubs in the country.
Last week at Borders, I got a beautiful cookbook on clearance, Irish Food & Cooking by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell. It features a wide array of recipes but also information and gorgeous accompanying photos on food and drink in Ireland.
Although a lot of the recipes are better suited for the winter months, I tested some out tonight for this week’s food travels. I started off by making one of Ireland’s most well known dishes, potato soup. The recipe was extremely easy and the taste, a simple form of salty decadence. Fresh chives were the perfect topping.
1/4 c butter
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb potatoes, diced
about 3 pints hot chicken stock
sea salt and ground black pepper
a little milk, if necessary
chopped fresh chives, to garnish
Melt the butter in a large heavy pan and add the onions, turning them in the butter until well coated. Cover and leave to sweat over a very low heat.
Add the potatoes to the pan, and mix well with the butter and onion. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook without coloring over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor. Reheat over a low heat and adjust the seasoning. If the soup seems too thick, add a little extra stock or milk to achieve the right consistency. Serve very hot, sprinkled with chopped chives.
For the main course I made Dublin Bay prawns in garlic butter. The recipe suggests serving it with rice and a side salad. It also notes that as a variation you can substitute scallops or a firm-fleshed fish such as monkfish. I accompanied it with some cucumber and a topping of feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
And for dessert, Fraughan mousse. Bilberries, also known as whortleberries, and by their Irish name, fraughan, grow abundantly in bogs and moorland areas all over Ireland in the summer. The bilberry’s larger cultivated cousin is the blueberry, but I made it with blackberries which the authors noted works equally as well. It turned out quite nicely!
1 pound cooking apples
4 cups bilberries (fraughans)
1/2 cup sugar
juice of one lemon
1 sachet powdered gelatine
2 egg whites
Peel, core and slice the cooking apples, then put them in a large pan with the bilberries, 2/3 cup water and scant 1/2 cup of the sugar. Cook gently for 15 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat.
Strain the lemon juice into a cup, sprinkle the gelatine over and leave to soak. Add the cake of soaked gelatine to the fruit and stir until it has dissolved. Turn into a nylon sieve over a large mixing bowl and press the fruit through it to make a puree; discard anything that is left in the sieve. Leave the puree to stand until it is cool and beginning to set.
Whisk the egg whites stiffly, sprinkle in the remaining sugar and whisk again until glossy. Using a metal spoon, fold the whites gently into the fruit puree to make a smooth mousse. Turn into serving glasses and chill until set. Serve topped with double cream (optional).