In Dublin’s fair city,
Where girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive O!”
–Traditional Irish folk song
It starts early every March – earlier, really. No sooner does the Valentine’s Day paraphernalia disappear from stores – after a week or so of post-holiday discounts – than a rash of green takes its place: green felt bowlers and top hats, corny cardboard leprechauns, glittery shamrock garlands, green wigs and more. The cabbage sections in groceries’ produce departments double in size; meat departments display corned beef specials. St. Patrick’s Day is coming!
Ironically, things are far different in Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day as a giddy bacchanal is a peculiarly American institution. The Irish have traditionally celebrated it – if it can even be called a celebration – primarily as a religious holiday. Lately there’s been some movement towards making it a more festive occasion. But that’s because of American influence reaching back “over the pond” rather than the other way around.
The American St. Patrick’s Day probably evolved because of Irish-Americans’ nostalgia for their homeland. A bigger mystery is why Americans believe corned beef and cabbage is the traditional St. Patrick’s Day – or even Irish – meal. (There’s more about the Irish “Corned beef myth” in my 3/12/08 column, available at illinoistimes.com.)
The Irish have long been famous for their love of drinking. That’s obviously an over-generalization. Ireland has been called a land of poets and drunks; several of its most famous citizens have been both. And that greenest of countries makes some of the world’s best beers and whiskies.
There’ll be lots of Americans guzzling lots of those beers and whiskies on St. Patrick’s Day. But instead of overindulging, I’ll be showing my Irish spirit (one of my great-grandmothers was Bridget Sheehan) by preparing these truly traditional Irish dishes that showcase classic Irish spirits.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.
Mussels steamed in Guinness
Corned beef and cabbage may not be traditional Irish fare, but seafood is. Even when potato crops failed, the island nation could depend on the abundance of fish and seafood. Guinness Stout is practically synonymous with Ireland. It’s a classic beverage accompaniment to oysters on the half shell; Guinness and Oyster festivals are popular throughout the English-speaking world. Guinness pairs equally well with the more humble mussel. Combining the two (with the addition of some cream) is as classic Irish as it gets, and a match made in heaven.
Fresh mussels are inexpensive, delicious and highly nutritious. They’re available locally at Robert’s Seafood and occasionally in some groceries’ fresh fish section.
- 4 lbs. mussels
- 1 c. chopped leeks, white and pale green parts only
- 1 c. chopped celery
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly, optional
- 1 T. butter
- to 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 12 oz. bottle of Guinness
- 1 c. heavy cream
- c. chopped parsley, preferably flat-leafed
Rinse the mussels thoroughly. Throw away any with broken shells. If any are open, pinch the shells together or rap them sharply on the counter. If the shells close tightly (clam up), they’re good to use. Throw away any that won’t shut. Pull off and discard any fibrous “beards” that may protrude from the shells. A clean pair of needle-nose pliers works well for this task.
Melt the butter in a large kettle over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, pepper, and bay leaf, and stir to coat the vegetables. Cover the kettle and sweat the vegetables until softened. Add the mussels to the pan and stir to combine. Pour the Guinness and cream into the kettle, cover and raise the heat to high. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that have not opened.
Serve the mussels with their broth either directly from the kettle or in a large deep bowl, sprinkled with the parsley; diners should have largish individual shallow bowls that can hold a generous serving of both the mussels and their delicious broth. Be sure to provide plenty of crusty bread for dipping.
Serves four to six as a first course, two as a main course.
Irish whiskey trifle
Trifles are traditional in England and Scotland as well as Ireland, one of those preparations that undoubtedly came about as a way to use stale leftovers – in this case, cake – but that was so delicious that it soon was being made for its own sake. Various spirits are used to moisten and flavor the cake – in England, sherry is often the choice – but the Irish make it their own by using Irish whiskey.
A trifle bowl is a deep glass bowl (usually footed) that’s straight-sided to display the layers of cake, custard, and fruit.
- 1 day-old 9-inch round yellow or white cake layer (NOT angel food-type), or substitute a small (10.75 oz.) purchased Sara Lee all-butter pound cake, cut into cubes
- c. Irish whiskey, such as Bushmill’s, or more or less to taste
- Chilled custard sauce, recipe follows
- Raspberry purée, recipe follows
- 1 c. chilled heavy whipping cream,
- 2 T. sugar, preferably superfine
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- c. slivered or sliced lightly toasted almonds
Sprinkle the cake cubes with the whiskey. Use enough to dampen the cake and give it flavor, but be careful: using too much can turn it into a soggy mess. Let stand about 15 minutes. Put half the cake cubes in the bottom of a trifle bowl or other glass serving bowl and drizzle with some of the raspberry purée. Cover with half of the custard sauce and sprinkle half of the fresh raspberries over that. Repeat with another layer of cake, purée and custard. Whip the chilled cream with the sugar until it stands in firm peaks. Smooth the whipped cream over the custard. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes; it can be made and refrigerated several hours ahead. Just before serving, drizzle with the remaining raspberry purée and garnish with the remaining fresh raspberries and nuts.
For the custard sauce:
- 4 egg yolks
- c. sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 c. milk
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Beat egg yolks, sugar and salt in the container of a blender or bowl of a food processor until thick and creamy. Heat milk and cream in a heavy saucepan or the top of a double boiler just until tiny bubbles appear around the edge. Do not allow to boil. With the food processor or blender running, pour in the hot milk mixture in a thin stream. Return the mixture to the pan, and put the pan over low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened to a creamy consistency that coats a spoon. Stir in the vanilla extract. Remove from the heat. Sauce may be served warm or cold.
For the raspberry purée
- 12 oz. bag unsweetened raspberries, unthawed
- c. sugar, or to taste
In the container of an electric blender or the bowl of a food processor, purée the berries and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the berries are liquefied. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.