Friday, October 9, 2009

Week #6 Irish

I forge into this particular blog entry with some trepidation, because I've spent a good deal of time in Ireland over the years, and I get really annoyed by pretend-Irish food on the menus of faux-Irish pubs in the United States. Much of it is basically the same pub grub you'd find in fern bars and chain restaurants with lots of polished brass and fake Tiffany lamps (those places Anthony Bourdain refers to collectively as T.G.I. McFunster's).

"Blarney wings?" THAT'S Blarney. They're Buffalo wings with an Irish moniker. If you find them on a menu in Ireland, it's in a place that caters to American tourists (we once stumbled into one of those by accident. Gak!). And corned beef was embraced by Irish immigrants to America who settled in around the Jewish neighborhoods of Boston and New York City. They had to make do with corned beef because they couldn't get their beloved pork loin from their local Jewish markets. You'd be as hard pressed to find corned beef in Ireland as you would pork in a kosher deli.

All this to say I'm picky about food that claims to be Oirish.

So Himself and I went to Finn Mc'Cool's in Santa Monica, which features traditional Irish fare on its menu, along with an all-day Irish breakfast. I selected this place because the chef/owner is from Northern Ireland, and I figured that if she's not cooking Irish, no one is. Granted, they make a number of concessions to American tastes and expectations (they must, since they're in the middle of a major party zone), but they offer more Irish food than any other place I've found around LA, many of which are Irish in name only (you can spot those right away because they're decorated with shamrocks and leprechauns and such). And I appreciate that Finn Mc'Cool's doesn't try to glam it up in a SoCal sort of way.

a full Irish breakfast (well, maybe not the Guinness!)

I had the full Irish breakfast (a.k.a. the full English breakfast) of eggs, sausage and bacon with black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes, boxty and soda bread (okay, the last two are Irish). Eat all of this first thing in the morning and you're ready to spend the day farming, fishing, cutting peat ... You get the idea. It's more or less a relic of an earlier time. While there are plenty of people in Ireland performing physical labor, the majority these days work in offices, shops and the like and live much more sedentary lives. Toast and tea usually cover them just fine until noon. I normally opt for the full breakfast when I'm in Ireland, because it fortifies me for a day on the go, so that I don't need to eat again until evening. And it's usually included in the price of my lodgings.
detail of the black pudding

Puddings (we call 'em sausages around here) are made from the internal organs of pigs and sheep. Black pudding includes animal's blood, while white puddings look essentially the same, except for the color. Depending on the region you're in, your pudding may have spices and barley or oatmeal mixed in. These appeared not to have any grain in them. They were dense but good in their organy fashion. Soda bread is heavy--it's hard to get around that--but with plenty of butter (not margarine) and jam, it's a satisfying accompaniment to the meal.

Here are a couple of packages of pudding I just pulled out of my freezer. You'll see that the black pudding contains beef blood. Both contain oatmeal and spices, as is common in the south and west of Ireland (these come from County Cork). Some puddings contain breadcrumbs or flour.

 boxty filled with Guinness beef stew and champ

Instead of admonishing their children to eat their boxty because there are starving people somewhere in the world, Irish mums have traditionally sung to their children:

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you don't eat your boxty
You'll never get your man. (some versions say "a man.")

Hmm. Well, Himself had a large, thin boxty (the potato pancake you see here) filled with champ and Guinness beef stew. (The small potato cakes you see on my plate are boxty, too). The champ, mashed potatoes with green onions mixed in, along with potato-laden stew inside of a potato pancake means you have not one, not two, but THREE forms of potato in the same dish! This tripling of the starch is common in England as well. I once sat down to a plate of college cafeteria food in London that included rice, potatoes and pasta--along with bread.

If your local Irish pub menus are filled with caesar salad, jalapeno poppers and hamburgers, try making a bacon loin. While you can't just breeze into any chain grocery and pick one up, it's worth seeking out a proper butcher and asking if you can special order one. And try your hand at making soda bread, too. I'll provide the recipes if you'll give 'em a try.

Here's our spread from a visit to Bord Bia (clockwise-ish, starting from the left foreground): bacon loin, white soda bread, cabbage, colcannon, whole grain soda bread, and beef & Guinness stew. Bord Bia was established by the Irish Parliament to educate both the Irish and their guests about indigenous food.

P.S. When you run "boxty" through the spellchecker, it suggests "booty." Now that's a very different blog entry!


balderton said...

Hi Carol,
Got a kick from the "organy fashion" descriptor for the puddings (I believe) in the Irish story.
> Are shepherd's pie and fish and chips authentic Irish and what are some clues to look for in a truly Irish restaurant? Keep up the writing.

Hungry Passport said...

Hi Bryce,

Shepherd's pie and fish & chips are English fare, although you'll often find them on the menu in Irish establishments. If you're going for something more authentically Irish, look for items like boxty, Irish stew (admittedly anyone can put that on the menu & toss anything into it!), beef & Guinness (or more generically, beef & stout), colcannon (mashed potatoes with butter & greens), champ (mashed potatoes with butter & scallions), Dublin coddle, and of course, soda bread. I've seen menu items in Irish pubs in the States with Irish names tacked onto plates of nachos and Buffalo wings and the like. But as I've heard it said, "Just because there's a mouse in the cookie jar, that doesn't make it a cookie."

Ireland produces wonderful artisanal cheeses and handcrafted butters, smoked seafood and smooth, triple-distilled whiskeys.

Interestingly, Baileys Irish Cream was created in the 1970s as a whiskey producer's ploy to increase sales by producing something the "ladies" would drink--by adding cream and sugar to their whiskey! And there was no Bailey behind it--just a name selected for the sound of it. So enterprising American owners of Irish pubs aren't the only ones who assign names based on their appeal!