Sunday 17 November 2019

No place like home on St Patrick's Day for Rachel Allen

St Patrick's Day is the ideal opportunity to showcase some classic Irish recipes, says the chef, and it's also the perfect time to let home-grown produce shine

Rachel Allen: showcase some classic Irish recipes on St Patrick's Day
Rachel Allen: showcase some classic Irish recipes on St Patrick's Day
Boiled bacon with parsley sauce.

Rachel Allen

There were years, even decades, when Irish people were trying to run away from the world's preconceived notion that we were just a nation of bacon-and-cabbage eaters.

Now, thankfully, due to many different factors, we've managed to come full circle. No longer are we ashamed of our corned beef, our mutton stews and our comforting coddle. Now, we take real pride in the fabulous food that has been cooked here for generations, knowing that when it is cooked with a delicate touch, our traditional food is hard to beat. Particularly so, when it is cooked here in Ireland. In fact, that's the whole point!

We have some of the best produce in the world. When it is prepared simply and without unnecessary embellishments, it's absolutely second to none; we have sheep that can roam free, cattle that get to eat perfectly green grass and wild flowers all year round, and seafood that's sweet and delicate because of our cold, fresh waters.

These are the prime foods that are exported all over the world, selling at top euro, or, indeed, dollar. In a Michelin-starred restaurant in London a while ago, I saw a single portion of award-winning Irish cheeses selling for more than it would cost to refuel a family car. Yet, as we know, these cheeses are all easily available at our local farmers' markets and cheesemongers.

Imagine a world without butter! Our salty, golden Irish butter. It would be a very sad one. Slowly melting over boiled or baked potatoes - that's the quintessential flavour of home for me. It's something I always long for when I'm on the way home from my travels. Don't get me wrong, I adore tasting all of the different foods each corner of the world has to offer. But it's also hard not to appreciate what we have at home. And what better day to celebrate all that is Irish than Saint Patrick's Day. Anyone for a coddle?

Dublin Coddle

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

350g (12oz) potato, peeled and cut into 2cm (about ¾in) cubes

200g (7oz) finely chopped onion

225g (8oz) breakfast sausages, each one cut into 4 pieces

600ml (1pt) leftover bacon cooking liquid (see my Tip, below), or chicken stock, or you could even use water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g (3½oz) leftover boiled or fried bacon, torn or cut into ½in to ¾in (about 1-2cm) chunks

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Put the cubed potato, the finely chopped onion and the sausage pieces in a large saucepan and add the bacon cooking water, the chicken stock or the water, whichever you are using. Add a little salt and freshly ground black pepper - but don't add too much salt if you're using bacon cooking water. Place over a medium heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.

Add the torn leftover boiled or fried bacon, whichever you're using, and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the finely chopped fresh parsley, season with more salt (if necessary) and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Boiled bacon with parsley sauce

Serves 6.

You will need:

2lb (900g) piece back bacon (centre loin) or cured and smoked pork loin (loin or collar of bacon)

Buttered cabbage, to serve (see recipe opposite)

For the parsley sauce, you will need:

300ml (½pt) basic white sauce (see recipe below)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

7 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the piece of back bacon or the smoked pork loin, whichever you're using, in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring slowly to a boil. Drain, refill the pan with fresh water, and repeat. This is to get rid of the salt - which appears as white froth on the water - so it may need to be done again, depending on how salty the bacon is.

Taste the water to check for saltiness and keep checking and boiling the bacon again in fresh water until you are happy with the flavour.

Cover the meat with fresh hot water and bring it to the boil for the final time. Decrease the heat to a medium-low, then cover with a lid and simmer for about 40 minutes (allowing 20 minutes per 450g/1lb), occasionally skimming off any sediment or foam that rises to the surface. Once the meat is cooked - a metal skewer inserted in the middle should come out easily - remove it from the pan, reserving the cooking liquid for the Dublin coddle recipe, see my Tip, above left. Leave the meat to rest, covered with foil, a clean kitchen towel, or an upturned bowl.

In the meantime, prepare the parsley sauce. Make the basic white sauce as directed (see recipe, above right) then stir in the Dijon mustard and the finely chopped fresh parsley. Check the seasoning and adjust, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. You can add a little of the reserved bacon cooking water to thin out the sauce if it seems too thick.

Cover the pan with a lid and keep the sauce warm until you're ready to serve.

Remove and discard the rind from the meat, if necessary. Slice the meat into thick pieces, and serve it while it is warm with buttered cabbage (see recipe below) and parsley sauce.

Basic White Sauce

Makes 300ml (11fl oz).

You will need:

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

A few slices of carrot

A few slices of onion

1 sprig of parsley

1 sprig of thyme

3 peppercorns

25g (1oz) butter

25g (1oz) plain flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the whole milk into a small saucepan and add the slices of carrot, the slices of onion, the sprig of parsley, the sprig of thyme, and the peppercorns. Bring the mixture to the boil, then decrease the heat and simmer for four to five minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.

While the milk infuses, make the roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low-to-medium heat and add the plain flour. Allow to cook for two minutes, stirring regularly. Set aside.

Strain the milk mixture through a sieve that you've placed over a small saucepan, and bring the milk to the boil. Whisk in the roux, a little at a time, until it is well blended, and leave the sauce to simmer gently for four to five minutes, or until it has thickened to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Use as a plain white sauce or add your choice of flavouring or cheese.

Buttered cabbage

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

450g (1lb) savoy cabbage (or another dark-green leafy cabbage)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves from the savoy cabbage. Cut the head of cabbage into four, cutting from top to bottom. Cut out the core, then slice the cabbage crossways into fine shreds, about ¼in (5mm) thick.

Combine the butter and the water in a wide saucepan over a medium heat and allow the butter to melt. Toss in the shredded cabbage and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for two to three minutes, until the cabbage is just softened; do not overcook or allow the cabbage to burn. Taste immediately for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary, and serve.

Rachel's tip

Make sure you keep the cooking liquid from the bacon. It will work wonderfully in place of stock in the coddle recipe (although you could use stock, if you like). You could even freeze it and use it as a base for a soup such as pea soup.

Rachel recommends

Sheridans Cheesemongers is an Irish institution. The company was founded in 1995 by Kevin and Seamus Sheridan and Fiona Corbett. What began as a Galway market stall selling Irish farmhouse cheeses, has since grown to become an Irish cheese-selling institution, with cheesemongers across the country. Sheridans don't just sell cheese though, their kitchen has created a series of wonderful crackers that are a divine accompaniment to cheese! I particularly adore the Irish Brown Bread Crackers. They are perfectly crisp, with an excellent flavour that complements Irish cheese beautifully.

See sheridanscheesemongers.com

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