Everyone’s a little Irish on St Patrick’s Day, and celebrating with a party, wherever you are in the world, is a method we most approve of. Our favourite guest blogger Gerry Britt reveals his recipes for a successful St Patrick’s Day party.
I moved to Virginia in February, 1995. St. Patrick’s Day soon rolled around and, not having many friends—okay, none—and not feeling up to the green-beer-and-leprechauns crowd, I decided to have my own little St. Patrick’s Day party for one.
“Aw, how sad,” you say. Don’t feel bad for me. The party has grown with each passing year and I expect 15-20 friends will attend this year. I’ve stuck pretty close to the dishes over the last 16 years, swapping out occasionally here and there, and I’ve learned a few useful things. The recipes are at the end and you can scroll to them now if you want to skip my scintillating prose. But be warned: you’ll miss some good tips. And you’ll hurt my feelings.
The dishes are basic, simple to make, and ridiculously tasty.
I started with the Irish-American classic, corned beef and cabbage. Why “Irish-American” and not just “Irish,” you ask? Okay, maybe you don’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway. The more ‘traditional’ St. Patrick’s Day dish in Ireland was bacon and cabbage (think “Canadian bacon” if you’re American and “ham” if you’re Canadian). Irish immigrants to America found the stuff difficult to get, and the price was outlandish when they did. Corned beef was close enough, and it was much cheaper. So that’s that.
Cooking corned beef is not the most complicated of tasks. “Put it in a big pot and boil it all day” is basically it. All right, there’s a bit more to it than that. But not much. Here’s a few handy tips: first, if you’re cooking more than one, make sure they’re close in size and weight. That way you’re not stuck with one over- or under-done. Second, make sure to find the little plastic packet of spices. It will be stuck to the corned beef. You want to rub this on the beef, not boil it. And third, use a really big pot. Once you add the praties (think “potato” if you’re American and “potato” if you’re Canadian) and cabbage the pot gets full, fast.
Here’s my two corned beef cooking styles, with and without beer:
To cook with beer: put the beef on to boil. Go drink 2 cans (yes, I know. But we’re staying home today, so we have to make do) of Guinness. Turn the heat to simmer. Drink one Guinness. Add cabbage and praties. Ask someone to turn the heat off in two hours. Drink two more Guinness and take a nap. With any luck they’ll finish the cooking and let you sleep.
To cook with no beer: First, count all the money you saved on Guinness. Put beef on to boil. Go watch “The Quiet Man.” Lower heat, watch first half of the parade on TV. Add praties and cabbage. Listen to The Dubliners to get your blood up for the chopping and kneading that comes later. Turn off heat.
For appetizers, side dishes, and dessert I checked the newspaper. Recipes abound in the days leading up to St. Pat’s. You’ll find the basics, of course. But you can also discover less well-known Irish dishes of meat, fish, and fowl. I’m not much of a fish guy, but I hear that fish dishes have been a big part of the explosion in recent years of excellent Irish cuisine. This works out well for Ireland, because I also hear the place is surrounded by water.
I decided upon a bacon torte as an appetizer, colcannon as a side dish, brown soda bread, and apple cake with fresh whipped cream for dessert. The apple cake recipe includes the directions for the whipped cream.
(NB: It’s nowhere near as dense or sweet as the aerosol stuff, but don’t give in to your barbarian friends who complain about it. They’re jealous troglodytes who have no taste or class, and if they don’t like it they’re more than welcome to walk to the store for a can of Redi-Whip. Not that I’ve ever had this issue, of course.)
Except for perhaps the brown bread, a great aspect of these recipes is that they’re very forgiving. A little too much of this or that ingredient won’t matter too much. You can make a complete hash (har!) of the bacon torte and it’s still delicious. The brown bread, like all breads, is fine if it’s too light or too cooked: nothing a little butter or jam won’t cure. But heavy, doughy bread is to be avoided. Take your time with the kneading and don’t give up early. It’s a great forearm workout, too. I leave out the fruit. Too many bad Christmas fruitcake memories.
Colcannon (think “bubble and squeak” if you’re Irish and perhaps English, “what’s that?” if you’re American and perhaps Canadian) is hard to beat as a ‘can’t mess up, can’t miss’ dish. I’d cut back a bit on the listed cabbage amounts, though.
That’s it, simple and easy. I’m looking forward to my 17th party on the 17th of March. I hope you’re looking forward to yours. And may I leave you with some words of wisdom that my dear, sweet, old Irish mother used to say to my father each and every St. Patrick’s Day: “Jimmy, get up will ya! The corned beef’s done.”
Our adventurous blogger Orla will be blogging live from the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. Listen in on the big day for photos, clips and stories from right inside the action!