See Also: St. Patrick’s Day Recipes and Holiday Recipes Section
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - March 12, 2008 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Mark’s Archive
March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, the feast day of the Emerald Isle’s patron saint and the date it is believed he left this earthly existence. It is a day to honor his memory, commemorate Irish heritage, and partake in Irish food and libation. Very little is known about St. Patrick’s life and even what we do know is inundated by uncertainties. The bulk of our knowledge is derived from two letters that he supposedly wrote, revealing various aspects of life. The rest of our knowledge is a compilation of indirect sources, historical detective work, and outright rumor.
St. Patrick was born in Britain, probably in the late 300’s and died somewhere in the mid to late 400’s. By his own account he was captured at age 16 and brought to Ireland where he was enslaved for six years before escaping. Afterwards he became a deacon and then a bishop. Legend has it that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Curiously, there were no snakes in post ice age Ireland to begin with. Thus, it has been posited that the snake stories are metaphors for serpentine symbols used by the Druids and Pelagians. Another interesting tidbit is that Patrick used the shamrock, or three-leaf clover to teach the Irish people about the Trinity.
Interestingly, Patrick was never officially canonized by the Pope, but he is recognized on the Catholic Church’s List of Saints, and remains the venerable and beloved symbol of Ireland to this day.
Feast Days, as the name implies, are days to celebrate via food and drink. Irish food is hearty and happy. And while corned beef and cabbage may be the commercially traditional grub, I wish to delve deeper into the soul of Ireland; into the food that emanated from the heartland, from the sweat of the hardworking folks who formed the backbone of Ireland. I’m talking about the peasant food. The food that countless generations of Irish toiled mercilessly for, in the face of natural adversities, pestilence and social subjugation. The food that may have broke their backs, but never their spirit or their pride. A specific example? Lamb stew.
The Irish worked their land, raising livestock and growing vegetables. Lamb and root vegetables are the most notable mainstays. Classical Irish stew was made from lamb (or mutton, a sheep over two years old), and some combination of root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, parsnips, or carrots. The broth was based on a lamb stock, (but beef or veal stock can be used as well), and often some Irish beer, a stout to be exact. Parsley is probably the most traditional herb but rosemary and thyme both meld beautifully with lamb as well. Garlic and some form of tomatoes (either fresh or tomato sauce or paste) can be added at the cook’s discretion.
Just like making beef stew, I strongly recommend you use the shoulder meat. First of all, you can not utilize tender cuts such as the rib or loin when making stew. The extended wet cooking would render them tough. You must start with a tough cut of meat such as the shoulder or the round but the shoulder is superior in taste and unctuousness.
• 2 lbs. lamb shoulder cut into bite size cubes
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 tablespoons salted butter
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 1 large onion, roughly chopped
• ¼ cup all purpose flour
• 1 quart lamb, beef, or veal stock
• 1 12-oz. bottle of Irish stout beer
• Small handful of chopped herbs, parsley, rosemary and/or thyme
• 3 cups mixed root vegetables, (carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, and/or potatoes), chopped into a large dice.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper and then brown the meat in the butter and oil in a large heavy pot with a snug-fitting lid. When the meat is browned, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Add the onion and soften. Then add the flour, lower the heat, and constantly stirring, make a roux, (mixture of fat and flour). If it is too dry you can add a little more butter. Stir and cook the roux/onion mixture for a few minutes to cook out the floury taste. Slowly add the stock and beer and whisk to fully incorporate the roux with the fluids. If using rosemary or thyme, add them now, if using fresh parsley, add it at the very end just before service. Add a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook for one hour. Add the vegetables and continue to simmer until the vegetables are completely soft, (about 45 minutes depending on the size of them). Based on the degree of fluid you like in your finished stew, you may wish to uncover it during part of the final simmering time. Assess for additional seasoning and serve with your favorite Irish beer.
Have a little extra stock or beer on hand in the event the liquid reduces more than you desire. The type of cooking vessel you employ, the nature of your stove and the cooking temperature will all influence the rate of evaporation. If you wish to add fresh chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, add them just after the stock and beer. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas, especially larger specimens are tougher than potatoes. Cut them a little smaller than the potatoes in an effort to have all the vegetables cooked simultaneously.
In the words of an old Irish Blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
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