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From lamb in spring to fish in summer, stews and soups in winter and, of course, potatoes at almost any time of the year, Irish food involves simple, hearty, family cooking that follows the seasons.
Don't leave Ireland without trying...
1. Soda bread
Every family in Ireland has its own recipe for soda bread, hand-written on flour-crusted note paper and wedged in among the cookery books. Some like it sweet with a spoonful of honey, sugar or dried fruits. Others prefer sprinkled-in seeds, bran and oats for a health boost, or treacle and Guinness for the opposite effect. However, the basic ingredients don’t change (bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk form the raising agent, which is mixed in with flour) and nor does the way it’s eaten: sliced and spread liberally with butter.
Visit Ireland outside of summer and your chances of seeing the sun may be slim. On the plus side, you'll be able to feast on the west coast’s plump native oysters (Ostrea edulis), which come into season in September, and pay a visit to the Galway Oyster Festival (28-30 September). Shellfish abound in Irish cuisine, from clams in Connemara to Molly Malone’s famed cockles and mussels, and Dublin Bay prawns, which have their own festival held in Howth every year in May. Try making your own... Mussels steamed with cider & bacon.
3. Irish stew
One-pot cooking doesn’t get much simpler than Irish stew, traditionally made with mutton, onions and potatoes (the addition of carrots can be a divisive issue). To avoid the stew being watery (a childhood horror for many of us), some recipes recommend adding pearl barley, a spoonful of roux or sliced potatoes, while others reduce the liquid by leaving the stew to simmer. These days, you’re more likely to find Irish stew made with lamb (as the more flavourful mutton is harder to come by), with stock and herbs – such as thyme, parsley and bay leaves – adding depth of flavour.
4. Colcannon and champ
Potatoes transformed the Irish diet when they were introduced from the New World in the late 16th century. Ireland’s population boomed with this cheap and plentiful food source, but was later decimated when potato harvests were hit by blight in the 19th century. Potatoes are still a staple at most mealtimes, with traditional dishes remaining popular. Colcannon is a classic, comforting mash of potatoes, cabbage (or kale) and butter (or cream), flavoured with spring onions. Champ is a similar, mashed potato favourite, flavoured with spring onions, milk and butter.
Potato dumpling, potato pancake and potato bread are all descriptors for boxty; some say the name originates from the Irish phrase arán bocht tí, meaning 'poor-house bread'. The recipe calls for grated raw potato to be mixed with mashed potato and then either: mixed with flour and salt and boiled before being sliced and fried in butter ('boxty dumplings'); added to a pancake-like batter before being fried ('boxty on the pan'); or added to a pancake-like batter before being baked in a loaf tin and then sliced and fried ('boxty in the oven'). Whichever way you choose, your boxty can be teamed with just about anything. Try it alongside bacon and eggs or smoked salmon and crème fraîche.
Try making your own... Boxty with bacon, eggs & tomatoes
6. Boiled bacon and cabbage
Boiled bacon, boiled cabbage and boiled potatoes might not sound all that appetising but it remains a firm family favourite. Traditionally, salted pork – a cut from the shoulder or back of the pig – would have been soaked overnight (depending on how much desalting was needed) before being boiled, with the cabbage added to the cooking pot in the last 10 minutes. A silky parsley sauce is the classic accompaniment.
Try making your own... Boiled bacon with cabbage & carrots
7. Smoked salmon
Smoked salmon is another must-try – the oak-smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse, the beechwood-smoked salmon from the Connemara Smokehouse, and the unusual turf-smoked salmon from The Haven Smokehouse are all worth looking out for.
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Try making your own... potato cakes with smoked salmon.
8. Black and white pudding
The Irish weren’t the only ones to discover the delights of black pudding (pork meat, fat and blood mixed with barley, suet and oatmeal in an intensely flavoured sausage). White pudding (similar, but minus the blood) may be less common around the globe, but no full Irish breakfast would be complete without a slice of each. Beyond breakfast, black pudding is just as likely to appear on the menu of smart Irish restaurants nowadays, served with sautéed scallops, in croquettes, under poached eggs, in salads and risottos and as a garnish to soups.
With roots as a working-class Dublin dish, the name coddle comes from the slow simmering or 'coddling' of ingredients in a one-pot stew. The leftovers at the end of the week would be slowly stewed in the oven for hours, with slices of pork sausage packed in alongside bacon rashers or leftover boiled bacon and sliced potatoes and onions. To make a superior version, use top-quality pork sausages and bacon, and serve the coddle with slices of soda bread to mop up the juices.
Try making your own... Irish coddled pork with cider
Enthusiasts make this fruity tea loaf all year round, serving it smothered in butter with a cup of tea in the afternoon. It’s at Halloween, however, that you’d find a charm in your slice foretelling the future: a rag foreshadowed bad luck or poverty; a ring meant you'd be wed within a year; a pea that you wouldn't be wed in the coming year; a coin brought wealth; and a stick foretold quarrels. Raisins, candied peel (sometimes steeped overnight in black tea and whiskey) and mixed spice all go into the mix.
Get even more fabulous Irish recipes in our ultimate collection.
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