The high-Irish Holiday, as I like to call St Patrick’s Day, is almost upon us. It’s a special time where drinking in the morning is perfectly acceptable and sitting in a bar for 12 hours is not frowned upon (even in the middle of the week!)
However, St. Patrick’s Day for me conjures up memories of making Irish Soda Bread with my Nana and helping my mother make corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes. Real comfort food made simply with the best, freshest ingredients. As the years passed by, St. Patrick’s Day became more about a guilt-free excuse to drink as much as possible from the moment I awoke from bed to the moment I passed out, than cooking for friends and family. I find myself returning to the comfort food of this Irish holiday. As I own a wine store I would be remiss if I didn’t pair a wine with this most glorious meal.
My great grandmother Anna Dalton, who emigrated from Dungarvan, County Waterford at the turn of the 20th century must be spinning in her grave at the notion that her great grandson will not be drinking beer and downing shots of Irish whiskey on this holiday. Alas she can rest soundly in knowing that the Irish whiskey bottle will be sitting on the dinner table, and not that stuff made by the Protestants either! The only difference will be wine with dinner instead of beer.
Now I know that when the topic of Irish cooking is broached there will invariably be snickers and clichéd jokes that have been handed down from generation to generation like “when in doubt boil it,” or “what is an Irish seven course meal? A bag of potatoes and a six pack of beer.” That thinking couldn’t be further from the truth these days with Irish fine cuisine exploding in the mother country. Alas, this meal is old school and we will be boiling potatoes and yes, we will be boiling a big hunk of beef for many hours until it is fork tender. No laughing in the back of the class. After a long day of drinking, you want to cook a meal that is pretty much fool-proof, and that my friends are why we boil. You will receive no recipe for corned beef because the directions are on the packaging and it is impossible to screw them up. I will however tell you to go see my good friend and local butcher Bob at Atlantic Meat Market 110 Wall Street in Norwalk CT., he’ll take good care to make sure your corned beef boils perfectly.
Alright, we need bottles of wine for this dinner and lots of them. A good bottle of Irish whiskey for the table will also be needed. As far as wine goes, I tend to lean toward a California Chardonnay for this meal. You can go the route of a Pinot Noir which is completely acceptable but the buttery-toastiness of a chardonnay will work more in unison with the easy flavor profiles of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes. I would not go with high-acid varietals like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc because the acid will get in the way of the soft flavors of the food and overpower the palate. Riesling with its petrol like flavors and minerality and Sauvignon Blanc with its notes of grapefruit and citrus will provide too much contrast to the food. Two chardonnays that I would recommend for this meal are Robin K from Napa Valley for $16.99 and Double T from Napa Valley for $17.99. robin K has a bit more buttery-toastiness and has a more weight in the mouth than does the Double T, which show’s more balance and restraint with the butterry/toasty flavors, opting more for a Crème Brule taste mixed with some lime-oil and oak. Both are winners.
Now on to the Irish whiskey, a real favorite of mine is Feckin, $19.99 which we will be tasting at the store on St. Patrick’s Day. For a single malt Irish whiskey you can’t go wrong with Michael Collins Single Malt $35.99, a nice strong peaty whiskey that will keep you warm on a cold winter’s night, also great for teething babies. Look how well adjusted I turned out!
We have wine, we have whiskey…ah yes we need a recipe. I have two closely guarded recipes that have been perfected by three generations of Irish women in my family. It took a great deal of convincing to get my mother to give permission to disseminate this recipe to the general public. Enjoy, and don’t skimp on the ingredients.
Corned Beef hint:
Don’t forget to skim off the fat that floats to the top of the pot while the corned beef is cooking, use a spoon. Also make sure to cut one inch slices into the meat on the fatty side and stuff with slivers of garlic. Add as little or as much as you like.
Believe it or not the most important part of the corned beef meal is cooking the cabbage, almost everyone over-cooks the cabbage, there is no excuse for this and I am providing my Nana’s tried and true cabbage recipe as interpreted and perfected by me own sweet Irish mum. I’m not a cabbage lover and I love this recipe. The secret as with many recipes is that wondrous flavor enhancer bacon fat, do not skimp on it for fear of heart failure. This recipe and this holiday are not for the faint of heart. Using soy bacon fat or tofu bacon just ain’t gonna cut it.
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and then turn down to Medium High
Cut and core one head of cabbage and soak in cold water
Place cabbage and 3 slices of thick bacon into the pot of water and cook until tender crisp. (That’s what my mom said, she does it by feel) just keep an eye on it. I imagine around 5 minutes.
Drain cabbage and return to the pot with bacon and chop the cabbage and bacon with a wooden spoon.
Add 1Tblsp of BACON FAT and sauté over medium high heat until everything is incorporated and smells great. 2-4 minutes
Add some fresh pepper and serve.
Irish Soda Bread:
3 ½ Cups of flour
1/3 Cup of sugar
1 ½ tsp of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tblsp caraway seeds
1 Cup raisins
3 Tbsp Butter or Shortening
2 Cups Buttermilk
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees
Sift all dry ingredients together. Rub in butter until like cornmeal. Add raisins and caraway seeds. Gradually add buttermilk and eggs which have been beaten together. The dough should be fairly moist. Turn out on floured board and knead 1 minute. Sprinkle flour in an ungreased 8 inch cast iron frying pan and place dough in pan. Dip knife in flour and make the sign of the cross in the dough (optional). Sprinkle a little bit of flour all over bread.
Bake in 425 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.