Inspired by the Boxty House review, Lynda O’Keeffe investigates the best of Irish native cuisine
Over the years, we as a nation seem to have turned our back on traditional meals in favour of those found further afield. Given the current economic climate and our desire for cheaper food, maybe it’s time we looked closer to home and got reacquainted with some long established foods and our forgotten friend: the spud.
Everyone’s had one – in fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine growing up in Ireland without one. It’s the ultimate Mammy dinner: a Sunday roast, surrounded by mountains of veggies, roast potatoes and mash, and swimming in gravy. This food usually comes accompanied with the conversations and sibling squabbles that are part and parcel of Irish family life. Although strictly speaking the dish in question may be technically British, the memories are truly Irish.
In my house, bacon and cabbage would sometimes take the starring role on the Sunday night menu. It’s difficult to imagine a more Irish dish than back bacon served with mashed potato and cabbage, and (alas) it’s even more difficult to forget the sound of your relatives singing “I’m a savage for Bacon and Cabbage!”
As traditional Irish dishes go, you can’t get much simpler than colcannon. Toss some mashed potato into a bowl with some cabbage (or kale), butter and seasoning. Mix and you’re done! Colannon has a special place in the heart of the Irish, and is even the subject matter of a well known trad song called ‘The Skillet Pot’ (or simply, predictably, ‘Colcannon’). Always ones to keep up with old pagan traditions, the Irish would serve this at Halloween, full of various coins or prizes, as we would with brack today. One can only imagine the look on a child’s face when they found a pound coin buried in their mashed potato.
Dublin Coddle is a dish that’s always intrigued me. I have always been very pro-bacon and the combination of rashers, sausages, potato and onion seemed like a good thing in the past. However, the meal is prepared by boiling, then steaming the mixture, so that the finished product is a rather gloopy-looking grey soup. Many people have assured me it tastes much nicer than it looks, but I don’t think I’ve got the liathróidí to try it.
Now, ladies – you’ll have to roll your sleeves up for this next dish, since the old saying goes: “Boxty on the griddle, Boxty in the pan / If you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.” The womenfolk of Ireland are clearly destined for spinsterhood (a fate worse than death back in the day) if we are unable to get in the kitchen and master the art of the potato pancake. The name itself comes from the Irish word bacstaí, which refers to the cooking method of grilling the shite out of anything that dares come near a griddle pan.