Review By Brette Sember
St. Patrick’s Day makes me long for the rolling green hills of Ireland. The castles, blarney, wool, lace, sheep, and the ever-present ocean are the things that come to my mind when I think of Ireland. I don’t think about the food. Those who imbibe might think of pints of ale and stout and the rousing Irish songs shared in pubs.. Or you can check out the recommendations for Celtic music from Music Road‘s Kerry Dexter who wrote here about Music for St. Patrick’s Day. And if you love dance, you might wax poetic about Riverdance.But you’re probably not going to have much to say about the food from Ireland. Margaret Johnson wants to change all that. Her book, The New Irish Table: 70 Contemporary Recipes , wants to take us all by the hand and show us the culinary delights waiting in Ireland today.
Page through this title before you delve into the recipes and you’ll already be hungry. The pages are filled not only with Johnson’s beautifully prepared dishes, but salmon smoking, shop windows filled with sausages, breads, and cheeses, and other vivid food invitations to open your heart (and your mouth to Ireland). The book is also a mini-journey through the geography and heart of Ireland in photos. Castles, thatched roofs, gravel roadways, misty hills, Irish people, and rustic home, street, and ocean scenes fill the pages. It’s all there – the Ireland you’ve been longing for. What you didn’t know you were longing for is Irish cooking.
Johnson cooks the food of today’s Ireland (redolent with seafood, elegant appetizers, warm soups, delicious local produce, and artisan crafted specialties) but she does much more than that. She leads us around the country, telling us where her ingredients are made and what makes them special (such as Irish creams and Irish honey). There’s talk about the history of food in Ireland (the potato is associated with Ireland, but Johnson tells us the story of how it got there). She shows us where to shop (the Kinsale International Gourmet Festival and The English Market are on my list now) and encourages us to reach out and experience Ireland even if we can’t travel there (the list of excellent resources at the end make it possible to cook Irish in America).
The recipes are moored with a sense of place and atmosphere as many of them originated in a specific restaurant that Johnson has visited. For example, a recipe for Cornish Hens with Apricot, Port, and Balsamic Sauce is prefaced by a description of the Lettercollum House in Timoleague, County Cork, a former convent turned restaurant, where the dish is cooked by the owners using produce from their walled convent garden. Yes, you’ll find some things you’ve heard of before (like colcannon, black pudding, champ, and sticky toffee pudding), but your taste buds will explore the new Ireland when they try Loin of Bacon with Cranberry-Cider Jus, Cashel Blue Cheesecake with Pickled Pears, and Rathcoursey Emerald Soup.
I thought I wanted to go to Ireland before I sat down with this cookbook. Now I know that I MUST go.
Marmalade Puddings with Bushmills Custard Sauce
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon thick cut orange marmalade
1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cups superfine sugar
6 eggs, beaten
Grated zest of 2 oranges
3 cups self-rising flour
1 tablespoon ground allspice
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
5 egg yolks
½ cup superfine sugar
3 tablespoons Bushmills or other Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Orange segments and mint sprigs for garnish
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease six 4-ounce ramekins. Put 2 tablespoons of marmalade in the bottom of each.
In an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat for 3-4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, orange zest, and the remaining 1 tablespoon marmalade, then gradually beat in the flour and allspice. Spoon into prepared ramekins.
Put the ramekins in a large baking pan and add hot water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dishes. Cover the pan with waxed paper, then with foil, and prick the foil in 6-8 places. Bake for 25 minutes, until the puddings are set and lightly browned.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the cream and milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the yolks. Return to the pan and stir constantly over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, or until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the whiskey and vanilla. Set aside.
To serve, run a knife around the side of the ramekins and turn the puddings out onto serving plates. Spoon custard around the puddings and garnish with orange segments and a spring of mint. Serves 6.
Disclaimers: Links from book titles to Amazon are here for your convenience, but they are also affiliate links, meaning that Brette Sember will profit by a few pennies for each purchase you make when you follow the link. Pictures used in the post are by permission of the publisher.
Were you surprised to hear food as a reason to travel to Ireland? If you’ve been to Ireland, where did you find good food?