As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around again (it’s one of those things, like Shrove Tuesday and Christmas that keep coming round and reminding you how quick the years are going by) the Guinness merchandise train is rolling into a town near you, ready to do another year of trading over-sized hats and other fairly useless gear. My own memories of St. Paddy’s festivities are ever blurring into one big bubbling black frothy soup culminating in a few years ago when I happened to find myself on the streets of Dublin on the very day, under the guise of making a study of prehistoric bronze horns – but that’s another story for another time.
It’s easy to forget that much of St. Patrick’s legacy belongs to Ulster and that the day will be equally celebrated on the mean streets of Belfast and Downpatrick. With St. Patrick’s day in mind then and being a bit of a travelling foodie, today I’d like to write a little bit about the food in Northern Ireland. Not as famous, understandably as the fayre from the Republic, but also, equally understandably, not so different from it. Traditional classics on both sides of the border include healthy hearty lamb and beef stews and, perhaps surprisingly, quite a lot of dishes involving seaweed. Here I’ll outlay a few recipes for some familiar, and unfamiliar dishes traditional to Northern Ireland – but I’ve never been one for measurements and don’t be expecting any photos either 🙂 You’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re after some of those.
A Northern Irish cousin, of sorts, to the Republic’s more famous Colcannon (which I’ll be preparing tomorrow as part of my St. Patrick’s Day dinner), champ will always be a winner for me for its use of Spring Onions, which are literally one of my favourite things to eat.
Take a good amount of peeled potatoes, boil them in salted water until soft then drain and set aside. Meanwhile boil a bunch of finely chopped spring onions (Scallions, if you wish) in half a pint of milk for a few minutes. Mash the potatoes well and combine with the milk and spring onion mix, some melted butter and salt & pepper to season.
Apparently champ is also known as Cally, Pandy or Poundies and it goes with just about everything ever! I remember eating it in a restaurant in Newry alongside chicken Kiev. Ukraine meets Ulster on a plate.
I couldn’t really write up some Northern Irish recipes without mentioning Soda Bread. It is probably more famously regarded as a Republic of Ireland foodstuff than an Ulster one – but it is just as popular North of the Border. For something more typically Northern Irish look up wheaten bread or soda farls. The trouble with soda bread is that it is just so darn easy to make and so enticing to eat spread with butter.
In a bowl mix together equal amounts of white flour and wholemeal flour with a teaspoon of salt and one of bicarbonate of soda. Add in enough buttermilk to form a soft dough and knead lightly into a round loaf/cob. Flatten the bottom and cut the top with a cross to allow the steam out when cooking. Bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes, ish, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped from beneath.
Some recipes say to add in rolled oats or similar grains to give the soda bread a coarser texture. Not necessary at all, but if you happen to have some hanging around why not….
I’ll admit, that I’ve never actually tried this myself… or heard of it until I pulled it out of a book just last week. I have of course eaten potato bread fairly often during my Irish travels, and I presume it’s a similar affair. Boxty is a style of potato bread typical of Northern Ireland..
Boil some potatoes in lightly salted water until soft. Drain well, season with salt and pepper and mash with some butter. To the mash add another couple of raw potatoes, grated, and some (let’s say half a cup) milk. Add to this mixture self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. This is your dough, so you can judge the amount needed. Mix well until it forms a soft dough and add a beaten egg – add extra milk/flour if necessary, to get the right consistency, it should be softer than normal bread dough. Spoon large dollops of the mixture onto a hot frying pan and cook for a few minutes on both sides. Serve, as with everything, with butter. You can use buttermilk instead of the milk and egg, for a more traditional flavour. Equally, I’m supposing you could make the dough a little tougher and bake it in the oven a la a normal loaf.
Less of a traditional Northern Irish cake, more of a recent thing that I caught once on a BBC cooking show. Fifteens is so named because everything is measured in denominations of 15 – making the quantities easy to remember. Needless to say I have forgotten them,
but even if I did remember them I would probably ignore them. Such is my way in the kitchen. It is very easy to make, requires no baking and is a little bit like an Irish version of Rocky Road.
Start out as if you were making a cheesecake base – scrunch up a quantity of digestitive biscuits… it may well be 15 (I think these might be known as gram crackers in the U.S. though I’m not certain – it’s what I see on most cheesecake recipes anyway). Then melt some butter in a saucepan and mix together with the biscuit crumbs. Add in to this mixture dessicated coconut (I normally omit this, but it seems that it is a major part of the recipe), glace cherries and those miniature marshmallows that you put in cocoa. Mix it all up and let the butter cool down to room temperature. Dump out the mixture on a large piece of cling film and roll the mass of sugary crunchiness into a large, fat sausage. Roll up the clingfilm around it and place it into the fridge to chill and set. Come back to it a couple of hours later, slice and serve. Yum, artery problems. You can of course add or substitute anything similar that you have laying around, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate drops etc.
Once again, I do apologise for my very un-cook-bookish style. It’s just the way I roll! Of course there are many more classics recipes which I haven’t even touched here but honourable mentions go to Yellowman (it’s like the brittle honeycomb stuff in the middle of a Cadbury’s crunchy bar, comes from the north coast and is quite complicated to make) and Urney Pudding (a lovely winter steamed jam pudding). I also have a pile of fascinating recipes
from the south of Ireland, however, once again that is a different post for another time. My Northern Irish series is almost at its end, with just some tales of Belfast left to spin. By the way, the thing to accompany these dishes would surely not be a pint of Guinness but a pint of Harp lager. My biggest Northern Irish fling and possibly my favourite taste from that land.
To all who raise their pints and their glasses this weekend, a happy St. Patrick’s Day.