Irish Hens for Paddy
by Kate Heyhoe
Some may argue that in Ireland, a corned beef is not a traditional St. Paddy dish, certainly not as much as it is here in the United States. But authentic or not, we do celebrate the Irish on March 17 with corned beef, and now is the time of year when supermarkets sell point cuts to flat cuts at bargain prices. So it's worth fixing a corned beef, if even just for sandwiches.
But this St. Paddy's Day, instead of (or in addition to) the customary corned beef and cabbage dinner, why not try a dish that combines some or Ireland's most beloved foods: rich cream, tender cabbage, and meaty bacon, all simmered together with a couple of Cornish hens?
The recipe for Irish Hen with Bacon and Cabbage hails from one of my new cookbooks, A Chicken in Every Pot: Global Recipes for the World's Most Popular Bird. If you like what you taste here, please buy a copy and season your holidays (and the rest of the world's) with enticing dishes ranging from Bangladesh Drums, to Pad Thai, to Rustic Tortilla Soup, and avoid replicating the same old thing.
The past few years have seen a blossoming of Irish chefs, spinning out meals that celebrate the best that Ireland's pristine shores and countryside have to offer. In A Chicken in Every Pot, I include "FlavorPrints"—culinary descriptions of a culture's foods and cooking techniques. FlavorPrints are what puts the olé in a Mexican taco and the buon appetito in Italian lasagna.
Here's an idea of what makes Irish food authentically "Irish," beyond corned beef:
Dairy products: Fed on the countryside's plentiful natural grass, Ireland's dairy cows produce some of the world's most luscious milk, cream, buttermilk, butter and farmhouse cheeses. The cream alone is 40 percent butterfat.
Vegetables: Besides potatoes and cabbage, Irish cooks favor leeks, carrots, watercress, onions, parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, nettles, beets, zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, and garlic.
Fruits: Apples, pears, and especially berries (of many varieties) thrive in the cool, short growing season. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but is cooked as a fruit.
Fish, Shellfish and Seafood: Wild salmon, fresh and smoked, is a delicacy; rivers yield trout; haddock, cod, and whiting are battered up for fish and chips; shellfish appears as cockles, mussels, oysters, scallops, and periwinkles, along with crab and lobster.
Beef: Rainy weather makes grass grow, and keeps the cattle well fed, producing excellent beef and dairy products. Roast beef, stews, shepherd's pie (made with beef), and prime steaks are full-fledged feasts.
Lamb: Salty coastal grasses and heather produce some of the tastiest lamb, which appears roasted, stewed, and braised, often flavored with stout or whiskey.
Poultry: Farm-raised chickens find their ways into ovens, fry pans, and pots, but game is also common, in the form of duck, goose, and quail, and turkey is a holiday tradition.
Grains: Hearty wheat, oats, and rye are consumed as breads, porridges, cakes and desserts.
Ireland has never been big on the use of spices, but with such wholesome ingredients of prime quality, their national dishes shine in their simplicity and pure flavors. Try the recipes below for yourself, and see what makes the Irish say, "Bain taitneamh as do bhéile!" —May your appetite be good!
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created March 2004