The food of Ireland has a rich history and tradition. It is not restricted to an undying affection for the potato, although our love of spuds is well known and quite real. There are a number of dishes that are distinctively Irish, from colcannon to Irish stew, and of course our wonderful soda bread. Yet the story of Irish food is not about an elaborate range of complex dishes and techniques. Irish food is about local produce. The greenest grass in the world feeds the happiest cows, which in turn create the most beautiful butter and cheeses.We have lots of dedicated farmers who put their efforts in to growing delectable crops, and our cold water creates the sweetest seafood.
With great ingredients like these, Irish recipes don’t need to be complicated or extravagant, they are easy to cook and let the produce speak for itself. I grew up in Dublin but at the age of eighteen, I travelled down to East Cork to study at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School, which at the time had been going for six years, and at which I still teach to this day. It was on my first day at the cooking school that I really learned about the importance of using proper ingredients, meaning carefully grown crops and lovingly raised animals. These are principles which have been at the heart of Irish cooking for generations and which at Ballymaloe we instill and inspire in all of our students.
I’m thrilled about the release of my new book, Rachel’s Irish Family Food. It’s a collection of my very best family recipes and here are three of my favorite recipes from the book:
Beef and Red Wine Hot Pot: This is just the sort of rich and warming dish that is so popular in Ireland. It must be all the cold weather and, of course, all the rain. We shouldn’t complain too much about the rain, because it’s what makes the grass so green and produces such delicious and full-flavored beef. Here, stewing cuts of beef are cooked long and slow with a full-bodied red wine and covered by potatoes, making this dish a convenient one-pot supper.
Roast Portabello Mushrooms with Lime Cream Cheese: Unsurprisingly, with all that rain and our wonderful wild woodlands, we have an abundance of mushrooms every autumn. I love the big flat frills of a portabello mushroom—they look so proud and almost regal. If you can’t get portabellos, any big flat mushroom would work well in this recipe. The sharpness of the citrus – while not traditionally Irish! – cuts through the soft cream cheese, and both combine with the juices of the mushroom for a divinely flavoured mixture that it would be a crime not to mop up with some crusty bread!
Porter Cake: This is a genuinely traditional dish in Ireland, long made in the homes of people all over the country. You could use whatever porter or stout you can get hold of. In Ireland people are usually staunch in their support of one particular stout, depending on the area in which you live. Dubliners on the whole prefer Guinness while in Cork, Murphy’s or Beamish are often the black stuff of choice. Whichever you use in this gorgeous fruit cake it will add moisture and its own distinctively Irish flavour. This cake would be perfect for Patrick’s Day. It’s best made a few days in advance as the flavour will improve even more.
More from Rachel:
4 Authentic Irish Bread Recipes
How St. Patrick’s Day is Celebrated in Ireland
Rachel’s Irish Family Food: 120 recipes from my home to yours is available now from HarperCollins. For more, visit Rachel’s website at http://www.rachelallen.co.uk/
Rachel Allen was brought up in Dublin and left home at eighteen to study at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. Dubbed by the BBC as an “Irish Cooking Queen,” Rachel is the author of five bestselling cook books, and the host of the Cooking Channel’s ‘Bake!’ Rachel, who still teaches at Ballymaloe, lives in County Cork with her husband Isaac, and children, Scarlett Lily, Lucca and Joshua, and their dog Buddy.