Soda bread is, indeed, a traditional Irish food, but it’s a relatively recent one, as its defining ingredient - baking soda - wasn’t introduced until 1850. Prior to baking soda, yeast was the only available leavening agent, and it was not readily available to most people (there were no packets of quick-rising yeast from the grocery store, so you had to cultivate your own!), so most bread was really more of a flat and dense cake. It is the baking soda that gives soda bread its slightly bitter flavor, while buttermilk gives a sour tang. Traditionally, soda bread was very plain, containing only soda, salt, flour, and buttermilk. There are a thousand variations on soda bread, though, and many recipes now call for currants, raisins, sugar, or caraway seeds (which we use here). No matter the type, it is eaten all over the country - for breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner. (Contains egg, gluten, dairy; vegetarian).
Rabbit & Pork Belly Rillette
Rabbit was widely eaten in Ireland prior to the 1950s, often as rabbit stew. As wealth increased, however, people began to shun wild and foraged food, and rabbits became a nuisance animal, decimating farm fields and gardens. The island was completely overrun with rabbits, and in 1954, farmers introduced a virus to control the population. Rabbits fairly disappeared from Irish cuisine. Today, rabbit is making a culinary comeback, (as it is in the United States), as it is a mild and versatile protein. It is a lean meat, so we’ve prepared it with pork belly for added richness and texture. Rillette is a traditional French method of preserving meat, and is often made with pork belly. Spread this on a slice of soda bread, and enjoy! (Contains dairy; no gluten).
Monkfish with Mushrooms
Incredibly, and somewhat mysteriously, seafood has not featured heavily in traditional Irish cooking, though fish and seaweed have consistently been part of the diet in Irish coastal communities. Indeed, seaweed consumption helped some people survive the Great Famine. This unlikely culinary slight could be due a long-held notion of seafood as poor man’s food, and the Catholic Church-prescribed eating of fish on Lenten Fridays, which led to a sense of fish as a penitential food. Additionally, restrictions governing deep sea fishing around Ireland have involved complicated politics with England; in fact, some of the thornier negotiations in advance of Brexit had to do with fishing waters and Irish access to those waters. On top of all of this, monkfish is… not a pretty fish. For a long time, it was unmarketable due to its appearance and fisherman would actually throw it back into the sea, or give it to the monks who showed up at the docks begging for food (hence the name). Which is a gastronomic travesty as it has a wonderful taste and texture - very similar to lobster! And much like lobster, which was once reviled for its appearance and was considered a food only fit for prisoners, monkfish has now become one of the top four most lucrative catches for fishermen, thanks to growing demand across Asia, America, and Europe. Here, we gently sauté the monkfish in butter and serve it with a velvety mushroom and cream sauce. (Contains fish, dairy; no gluten).
Colcannon is another absolutely Irish dish. Every family has its own colcannon recipe, and it features the beloved potato. While potatoes are native to Peru (you can read more of our write ups on the history of the spud here and here), they were adopted quickly across Ireland even while the rest of Europe shunned them upon their introduction. The wet and cool climate of Ireland was remarkably like that of the Peruvian highlands, and potatoes grew more reliably than many grain crops. Irish peasants ate between eight and fourteen pounds of potatoes per day, with potatoes accounting for nearly eighty percent of their caloric intake! While the potato was a boon to Irish peasant farmers, the Irish diet was supremely vulnerable to any potato harvest problems, and in 1845, a fungal infection led to three years of failed potato crops. The Irish people suffered immensely - over a million died of starvation and illness, and an additional 1.5 million emigrated. The potato was never banished, though, and remains a constant on the Irish plate, quite often in the form of colcannon. (Contains dairy; no gluten, vegetarian).
Baby Carrots with Ginger
Even the most proud Irish person would admit that vegetables are not historically the stars of the show in an Irish meal. Traditionally, many homes had gardens, but the vegetables that tended to end up on the plate were cabbage, parsnips, potatoes and carrots - often thoroughly boiled. Vegetarian meals (to say nothing of vegan) were not generally an option - short of a bowl of the aforementioned boiled vegetables. This, too, has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and people are gaining a new appreciation of vegetables. There is also a dramatic increase in organic farming and animal husbandry, with big plans for more as the EU works toward its goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Irish food was also previously (and somewhat unjustly) characterized as bland, as historically, honey and butter were the only flavors added to many dishes (even salt was too expensive). In our opinion though, a few key ingredients are often all that’s needed to elevate fresh produce into an exceptional dish. Here, we include these typical ingredients - carrots, butter, and honey - with the addition of the very British-colonial paprika and ginger, all simmered in hard apple cider. (Contains dairy; no gluten, vegetarian).
Barley & Asparagus Salad
Barley was one of the first crops ever to be cultivated and there is evidence of its cultivation in Ireland dating back to 3750 BCE. It has been cultivated continuously throughout Ireland’s history, and its resilience has made it a symbol of Irish perseverance in the face of adversity and conflict. The rebels in the 1798 Irish Rebellion carried barley in their pockets for food, and upon their execution and burial, barley reportedly grew from their graves - this legend has been immortalized in Irish music and poetry. Wild asparagus is native to Ireland (though we’re using a cultivated variety here), and asparagus is a happy spring addition to menus across the country! (Contains gluten; vegetarian).
Juniper Apple Crumble
The Irish may not be known for their characteristic vegetable recipes, but they have a great tradition of sweet baking - especially fruit cakes, crumbles, and pies. This apple crumble is a classic Irish dessert, topped with walnuts and oats, and we’ve added juniper berries for a bright and piney bite. (Contains dairy, nuts, gluten; vegetarian).
Perhaps the most famous export of the Emerald Isle, Guinness is one of the most popular and well known beer brands in the world (thanks in part to a marketing plan from the 1930s featuring a now iconic toucan). It's as easy to drink as it is to find here in the states, which is great news for us as it pairs wonderfully with this menu.
Magners Irish Cider
Hard cider features in this menu frequently as an ingredient, both in the Carrots as well as the Rillette, so if you're looking for a complimentary drink that's not a stout, Magners Irish Cider is a perfect fit. Slightly sweet with some tannins thanks to the 17+ apple varietals that go into Magners, many of which are near impossible to find here in the states, it's a well balanced cider perfect for spring.
When most people think of Irish culinary traditions, they think of corned beef and cabbage, carrots, potatoes and beer. Meat-and-potatoes was a good descriptor of Irish food for a very long time; recently, though, the Irish food scene has gotten a little spicier, while still staying true to its meat-and-potatoes roots. Nowhere is this more evident than in Dublin, the capital of the country, and home to many chefs working to shrug off Ireland’s reputation for stodgy food.
Many of the foods we think of as quintessentially Irish aren’t really traditionally Irish at all. Beef stew? Beef is more common now, but has historically not been part of Irish cuisine (despite the fact that Ireland’s climate and geography are ideal for cattle-raising) - in part because cattle were used primarily for farm work and dairy. Pork, lamb, and wild game were much more commonly eaten, when meat was eaten at all. Elaborate class stratification and related dietary rules established in the Middle Ages likely dictated some of the food preferences and taboos that persist even today. Beef and wheat, for example, were strictly apportioned to the highest of the upper classes, while seafood, oats, and dairy products were available to the lowest commoner, leading to deep-rooted cultural stigmas around seafood as a “poor man’s food.” And potatoes!? We don’t need to rehash the origins of the potato, but potatoes certainly weren’t a thing in Ireland until the 16th century. Prior to the arrival of the potato, the Irish diet consisted mainly of dairy and grains with very little meat - just milk, cheese, butter, porridges, flat cakes and hearty breads. Upon its arrival, the potato was adopted quickly and completely across the entire population of Ireland. Potatoes mashed with buttermilk commonly comprised an entire meal for poorer people. This reliance on the potato as a main food source contributed directly to the tragedy of the Great Famine. Between 1845 and 1849, over a million people died of starvation and illness when the potato crop failed in consecutive years. While the Great Famine defines one (among many) tragic chapters in Irish history, the potato remains a staple at the Irish table today.
Ireland was historically one of the poorer countries of Western Europe, with high unemployment, high poverty rates, and low economic growth. In the 1990s and 2000s, however, several factors combined to shape the economy into the “Celtic Tiger.” This booming period of growth transformed Ireland into one of Europe’s leading economies, and Ireland welcomed an influx of immigrants, especially to major cities like Dublin. Immigrants brought with them new food traditions, and this was an inflection point in the erstwhile fairly bland nature of Irish cuisine. While meat and potatoes still featured heavily on all traditional Irish menus, cooks began to use more spices and to prepare traditional ingredients in new ways. Chefs worked to embrace traditional and historic ingredients that had been shunned or forgotten over decades and centuries. Wild game, seafood, foraged foods and seaweed all became more visible and accessible. Though the economy has since subsided, the food scene has continued to get more and more interesting and creative.
Ireland’s evolving food traditions, its dramatic natural beauty and rich history of artistic expression, its friendly and welcoming people - these all combine to make Ireland an incredible place to visit. There are Irish food tours and world-famous cooking schools, and none of these features boiled meat and potatoes! Our menu includes recipes that highlight the incredible bounty and native foods of the island; some dishes are very traditional preparations, while others are more contemporary and showcase the creativity of chefs working to use Irish foods in new ways.
While it’s cuisine is having a renaissance, Ireland has always, and undoubtedly been a land of storytellers and authors, musicians and silver-tongued poets. Spend a few minutes in a pub, and a local will almost certainly sidle up and offer advice on what to do, where to go, and dispense firm convictions regarding the best teams in Gaelic football and hurling (here’s a highlight video of these two Gaelic sports, beloved by Irish fans). While literary greats have hailed from across Ireland, Dublin alone was home to Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Becket, Jonathan Swift, and - most famously - James Joyce. While Joyce left Ireland in his 20s and rarely returned, he famously proclaimed, “When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart.” His most famous novel, Ulysses, is set entirely in Dublin, and every year on June 16, pilgrims trace the path of the novel’s protagonist (Leopold Bloom) around the city in a celebration called “Bloomsday.”
Most of us can rattle off some knowledge of Irish culture (thanks, in large part, to the substantial Irish diaspora and the American enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day), but few can articulate Irish food traditions, other than a general sense of bland meat and potatoes. We hope that this dinner gives you some insight into the food of this beautiful and complicated country!
Barley & Asparagus Salad
200 g barley
3 cups water
1 tsp Salt, plus more to taste
½ lb asparagus, trimmed and cut to 1.5 in pieces
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
13.5 g parsley, finely chopped (about ¼-½ of a bushel)
11 g chives, finely chopped
2 g thyme leaves stripped from sprigs (about 3~4 sprigs)
120g, shallots finely minced
For the vinaigrette:
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from 1-2 lemons)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
6.5 g Salt
zest from one medium lemon
6.5 g garlic clove, grated or very finely minced (about 2-3 cloves)
1 tbsp country Dijon or other medium grain mustard
⅓ cup extra- virgin olive oil
2.5 tbsp honey
Heat a 3- quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add barley. Toast in the pan, shaking pan or stirring grains until they begin to smell a little bit like popcorn.
Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Add salt, reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 to 50 minutes, until barley is tender (it will always be a bit chewy).
Meanwhile, bring a second pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Prepare a large bowl of water with ice.
Blanch the cut asparagus for 2-3 minutes, until tender but still with a bit of bite. Plunge blanched asparagus into the ice water and let cool. Drain and set aside.
When the barley is done cooking, drain off any liquid remaining in the pot through a strainer and let the barley cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, salt, lemon zest, garlic, honey, shallots and mustard. Whisk in olive oil.
Transfer cooked & cooled barley to the large bowl with the vinaigrette. Add herbs and asparagus and toss together until barley is evenly coated with dressing. Enjoy!
Recipes Inspired By:
Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode in Ireland.
Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover episode in Dublin.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a Palme D’Or-winning film that illuminates the wrenching conflict that has persisted in Ireland for centuries; in 1920, as Ireland emerges from British rule, it falls immediately into civil war that pits brother against brother.
Derry Girls, a more lighthearted period sitcom set during The Troubles in northern Ireland