Skip the Corned Beef and Cook Up an Authentic St. Patrick's Day Feast
Prepare for your mind to be blown: No one in Ireland eats corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. Or ever, really, according to Cathal Armstrong, the James Beard Award–nominated chef and owner of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Armstrong should know—he grew up on the Emerald Isle.
"How many times can I say it? We never ate corned beef. It’s not really eaten in Ireland," Armstrong told us, his brogue softened by more than two decades of living in the states. Rather, Irish families traditionally ate lamb, and that’s what they’ll likely be serving on March 17.
"I bet at least 80 percent of households are going to have leg of lamb,” Armstrong predicted. After all, it’s nearly springtime; lambs are ready for slaughter and peas and carrots are in season. “A leg of lamb feeds a good-sized Catholic family, which almost everyone in Ireland [has],” he said, although it might be a smaller “rack of lamb if they weren’t listening at the pulpit when they said, ‘Have as many kids as possible.’”
Armstrong estimated the remaining 20 percent might enjoy a whole Atlantic salmon, which has a long history in Ireland and is richly featured in the country’s folklore. One Celtic legend tells of a druid named Finegas, who for years waited by the banks of a river for the arrival of the "Salmon of Knowledge." When he finally traps the fish, he hands it to his pupil Fionn to cook. But Fionn accidentally burns himself on the hot fish and sucks his thumb, thus gaining the salmon’s immense knowledge for himself.
If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with a good Irish stew. But just make sure to use lamb rather than beef, and braise the stew for a few hours instead of simply bringing it to boil.
"[Boiled foods] aren’t really a fair representation of the food of the peasant people of Ireland," Armstrong said. "They had braised hearty dishes that matched the climate."
Photo credit: Scott Suchman
Irish Stew with Piccalilli
from “My Irish Table” by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedorn
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (8-ounce) lamb shoulder chops
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 yellow onions, quartered lengthwise
2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large fresh bay leaf
2 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 cups water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1. Brown the chops: Sprinkle salt and pepper liberally over both sides of the lamb chops. In a flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, heat
the oil until it shimmers. Brown both sides of the lamb chops well (2 to 3 minutes per side), working in 2 batches so the pot is not crowded. Transfer the browned lamb to a plate and set aside.
2. Cook the stew: Blot the oil from the pot with a wad of paper towels. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf. Top the vegetables with the chops and any collected juices on their plate. Add the potatoes and water. Bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pot, and let the chops simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender. Adjust the salt and pepper seasoning to taste. Stir in the chopped thyme and serve immediately, with piccalilli on the side. The stew can be made the day before and gently reheated on the stove or in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.