I wanted to do an article on Irish cuisine for St. Patrick’s Day beyond Irish stew and fish and chips.
So I did a little research and spoke at length to my friend, The Ambassador Hotel’s executive chef Sean Brady, who grew up in a small town in County Tipperary. What I discovered online and heard from Brady helped put things into perspective for me with regards to Irish cuisine.
From a historical standpoint, perhaps the best information I found came from John Linnane, a lecturer in food production at the Dublin Institute of Technology. In his paper, “History of Irish Cuisine (Before and After the Potato),” Linnane details the profound impact, both positive and negative, the potato had on Irish cuisine.
Linnane goes as far as to conclude that “no other nation in the world had their cuisine changed so drastically as the Irish (by the potato).” That’s pretty strong stuff. Brady agrees.
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“There were always potatoes. Every meal I had growing up had potatoes,” Brady said. “Whether it was shepherd’s pie, mashed potatoes, or boiled spuds, there were always potatoes in some shape or form on the table at every meal.”
Brady grew up on a small farm in a family that didn’t have a lot of money. He describes the food he ate as pretty basic with a roast or braise of some sort, a vegetable and potatoes.
A real treat was poached salmon, which wasn’t just the cooking method, but poached by locals from area streams and farms.
“A lot of people would go out late at night with a flashlight and a spear. You went patrolling the lakes and the rivers and you pulled the salmon out,” Brady said.
Brady craved more. He developed a passion for cuisine in his youth. So he left Tipperary and headed to culinary school in Dublin where he learned the art of cooking.
And as one of the youngest graduates in school history, earning his degree as an executive chef at 19, Brady fell in love with the cuisine of the world. Irish cuisine, he says, didn’t play much of a role. “We probably spent one day on Irish cuisine in three years,” Brady said.
He says it wasn’t until he came to the United States that Brady longed to create, and celebrate, the cuisine of his homeland.
“My bosses would come to me and ask me to make a shepherd’s pie or some other traditional Irish dish around St. Patrick’s Day, and I would look for ways to elevate it,” Brady said.
“So I would do things like make my own lamb stock to add to the shepherd’s pie and mashed potatoes, use some Dijon mustard, or maybe a put in a bunch of fresh herbs.” I’ve had Brady’s shepherd’s pie, and I’ve had it in Ireland. No doubt, his is better.
Although it didn’t play a role in his culinary education, Brady says he’s come to really appreciate Irish cuisine. He says he loves braises and stews, and would “give his right arm for a good shepherd’s pie.”
I asked him what he would want someone to say after sampling his Irish dishes these days.
“The best compliment I can get is for someone to say that my dish was as good or better than anything they ever had in Ireland,” Brady said.
“The expectations are higher these days because people travel a lot, they’ve tasted more, and they want something authentic.”
You can’t get more authentic than Irish cuisine from an Irish chef trained in Ireland and raised in the heart of the country. I can highly recommend his braised lamb shank, which he’s currently featuring. It’s amazing.
Brady is also serving up good ole’ bangers and mash and an absolutely sumptuous Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake.
Before I close out this look at Irish food, I want to recommend a few other food stops this St. Patrick’s Day.
Owner, chef, and Irish native Domhnall Molloy is sharing his roots in an Irish menu at Lee’s Summit’s Third Street Social. Highlights include bangers and mash, fish and chips, and corned beef sliders, which are only available during happy hour.
They’re also serving special St. Patrick’s Day breakfast and dinner menus at O’Dowd’s Little Dublin. The breakfast menu is of particular interest to me as they only roll it out a couple times a year. There, you’ll find a traditional Irish breakfast, bangers and mash and more.
Finally, a late night option for those craving a sweet, or a not so sweet, end after a long day of revelry. Westport’s Doughnut Lounge will feature four sweet concoctions and one savory creation. The St. Patrick’s Day Doughnuts include the following:
▪ Car Bomb – $6. Yeast doughnuts filled with homemade Irish cream, Jameson mousse and topped with chocolate Guinness glaze. 21 & over only.
▪ Luck O’ the Irish – $3. Large classic yeast doughnut with Irish green glaze and sprinkles .
▪ Leprechaun Loot – $3. Chocolate Bailey’s & Cream cake doughnut with Bailey’s glaze.
▪ Shamrock Kiss – $3. Green mint-filled yeast doughnut topped with sprinkles.
▪ And last but not least, the The Reuben Me Right, which is described as a “classic Reuben on a rye doughnut.”
All the doughnuts along with a variety of drink specials will be on sale Friday, March 17, starting at 7 a.m. through 1 a.m. on Saturday, March 18 at Doughnut Lounge and its outdoor tent at Westport’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
So there you have it — breakfast at O’Dowd’s, lunch at Third Street Social, dinner at The Reserve at The Ambassador, and a late night doughnut at Doughnut Lounge. I don’t know about you, but I’m covered this St. Patrick’s Day.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.