Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Yesterday I talked about the history and true culture of St. Patrick’s Day; hopefully everyone is preparing to host their friends and family for a nice get together. The most important part of your party will be your meal. After all, that’s what unites everyone together at the table. There are plenty of meals to choose from but the most commonly found dinner on St. Patrick’s Day in America is corned beef and cabbage. This is an American tradition that isn’t quite as popular in Ireland. Traditionally in Ireland the feast is usually a carefully prepared dish of lamb or game bird. These are more proper dishes befitting the feast of the Patron Saint. It’s easy to find recipes out there if you really want to go that route. In my house, we are not the culinary masters we want to be so a much simpler recipe will be on our table. Here, I will also give you some other choices if you don’t like what I’m having.
About a month ago my wife and I decided to slow cook a pot roast for dinner and stumbled upon a delicious shepherd’s pie. Our roast had plenty left after we ate two meals and we needed something easy to make with the rest. I then shredded the roast in put it in a pie. Because it was so delicious we are making it for our friends. There’s a bit of a story to this dish though. A shepherd’s pie is really only called that if it is made with lamb. This dish made with beef is actually called a cottage pie and despite its association with the Irish, its origins lie more in Scotland and Northern England. Its association is mainly tied to the use of potatoes and vegetables. These were all ingredients readily available to the poor. At a certain point in Irish history the potato became one of the main staples of their diet and making a pie with whatever meat they could come across was a great way to put it all together.
So, here’s how I make mine. First, I slow cook a pot roast overnight. To prepare the pie, I shred that pot roast and mash the potatoes. More potatoes will be needed so I mix the slow cooked potatoes with some fresh made mashed potatoes. I take the potatoes and cover the bottom of the baking dish. Then I bake that layer at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes until it is golden brown. While that is baking I make some brown gravy and add the shredded beef. When the potatoes are done I fill the dish with the shredded beef, the slow cooked onions and some whole kernel corn. I use corn as a vegetable because my wife doesn’t like carrots; the ones from the roast are just saved for later. Finally I top that mixture with the remaining mashed potatoes and bake for another 20-25 minutes. I love this dish because the gravy soaked beef is delicious and goes so well with the potatoes in every bite.
The most common dish you will find is the corned beef and cabbage. This dish is truly American and was a great way to demonstrate new found life in America. In ancient Ireland cows were symbols of wealth and status and were rarely eaten. As life evolved actual currency was more valuable than cows, especially with trade across the seas in England and Europe. During this time one of the things the Irish became well known for was their ability to preserve their meat for market. This is what corned beef is, a meat preserved for market. Naturally, the Irish in Ireland didn’t too often eat the meat they were selling. America is the land of opportunity though and corned beef was more available. Since urban Irish were not selling cattle they got to enjoy the corned beef they couldn’t before. Once a delicacy, now it’s served as a delicious dish on the Feast of St. Patrick. The most common way to make this is to boil it. This allows you to make the cabbage and potatoes all together. I have a friend who makes it like he does his barbeque, slow smoked over hours. Any way you like it; you can enjoy this dish and savor the history and look back on how Irish American Immigrants felt when celebrating in their new country.
Finally; if it’s more to your liking, you can make a great stew. This hearty meal is made of roasted meat added to a pot of root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions then simmered together for flavor. Some preferred recipes add barely and Guinness for extra flavor but this is not required. This is a simple recipe with even simpler origins. Before the advent of ovens, food was cooked over open fires. With deep metal pots, the meat and vegetables were boiled together with water for about 2 hours. This meal can be made with beef but is more common with lamb or goat meat. Simply heat the pot with oil and brown the meat on all sides. Separate the meat and cut into pieces while you begin boiling the vegetables. Return the meat to the pot and simmer. Enjoy this dish with your guests and feel what it was like to make a simple stew the way it’s been for many generations.
Getting all your friends and family around a great Irish meal will make you feel the love a people have for this holiday of their heritage. It’s great getting nice and full before you settle in for drinks and merriment. I know I’m excited about sharing my recipe with my guests Friday. The meat and potatoes will give us a nice layer to help absorb our beers and whiskey while we stay up late playing games together. If you do the same you won’t regret it. Starting the night with one of these meals will get you in the mood to feel the way the Irish feel and appreciate the history. It’s only Tuesday so there’s still plenty of time to plan your meal and get your groceries.