When you think of fabulous global cuisines and crave-worthy flavors…how far is Ireland down the list? Let’s be real…St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t prompt the same menu excitement as, say, Cinco de Mayo, because for far too long Irish cuisine has been a bit of a punchline — an unfortunate shorthand for bland and boring.
The Irish don’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to cuisine and sadly, they’re better known for famine than food. But a new generation is turning that all around! In recent years, the country’s under-the-radar food scene has been reinvigorated, and even the most unassuming pubs are serving up elevated versions of the country’s classic comfort foods full of fresh, local flavors.
In honor of the holiday, we’re on the hunt for real Irish-inspired foods — and not a drop of green food coloring! The over-the-top, pot-of-gold St. Patrick’s Day we’ve come to know in the U.S. is about as authentically Irish as green Bud Lite, and we can do way better.
Let’s dispel those stereotypes once and for all and appreciate the Emerald Isle for what it truly offers: a lush, verdant landscape that produces spectacular cheese, butter, seafood, and seasonal produce — and, yes, all sorts of tasty ways to prepare a potato!
Corned Beef & Cabbage
Believe it or not, most people in Ireland today have no attachment to corned beef! The Irish association with corned beef dates back a few hundred years ago, when the Irish port city of Cork was under British rule and served as the hub of corned beef production and exports. But the product was too expensive for most of the impoverished locals to afford.
Fast forward to the great Irish emigration to America in the 19th century, and many Irish communities settled in among the Jewish neighborhoods in their new country. Corned beef, a special-occasion luxury back home, was now affordable at the local kosher butcher. It’s basically brisket, after all! Corned beef became a beloved meal among Irish-Americans, though in Ireland it’s a distant memory — something only great-grandparents would eat. For a more authentic dish to serve on St. Patrick’s Day, substitute the corned beef for bacon, as bacon and cabbage is a much more common combo among locals.
Like any folk dish, from goulash to gumbo, there’s no one way to make an Irish stew. Every family recipe is a little different and depends on what’s on hand in the kitchen. But because of the country’s native harvest, you can bet that every stew will be stacked with root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and onions. The longer you let it cook, the more complex the flavors will become, so start early and let it stew!
This mash is made from those quintessentially Irish ingredients: potatoes and cabbage! But with a little finesse and light sautéing — no boiling into submission! — the flavor and color of the cabbage really shine through. And a little butter and salt won’t hurt either.
Surprise! More potatoes! These crispy latke-like pancakes are delicious for breakfast and beyond, and they fry up nicely in a skillet alongside some sausages or bacon. Boxty was such a common peasant food that it gave rise to its own rhyme: “Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan…if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.” Yikes.
Irish soda bread and Irish-American soda bread have evolved in different directions since the wave of emigration in the 1800s. In the States, we know Irish soda bread as white, crumbly, and dotted with raisins or caraway seeds. But the soda bread you’ll enjoy with a hot stew in a proper Irish pub is a dense, nutty, brown bread that is spectacular with a spread of vibrant yellow local butter. If you’d consider yourself a soda bread skeptic, give this more modern version a chance!
Feeling inspired? Crack open a Guinness and try your luck at some of these Irish favorites: