Irish Traditional Cooking – Batting for Ireland


My new book Irish traditional Cooking was launched in New York over St Patrick’s Weekend, a busy few days, lots of interviews with food editors, radio and television including an early morning appearance on CBS on St Patricks Day. In between I was batting for Ireland as ever and spreading the news at every possible opportunity about the artisan renaissance in food production, farm house cheeses and farmers and country markets. Many Irish products are now widely available in the US, including Kerrygold butter, Irish Cheddar cheese, Odlums flour, Barrys tea, Kilbeggan porridge… The prestigious Manhattan store Dean and Deluca has increased its list of Irish products from two in 2011 to eleven in 2012, while I was there I was delighted to see that they were doing a brisk trade in Ballymaloe Country Relish, Dubliner cheese and Burren smoked salmon. Sarah Grubb was over to promote the launch of Cashel Blue Cheese in the US and Sean Hyde was charming everyone with her irresistible smile and a spoonful of country relish.

The head buyer from Dean and Deluca was high in her praise of Bord Bia and the Market place event they organised for food buyers last year which she insisted was the best she ever attended. However she was quite alarmed to learn that there was a possibility that Ireland was considering doing trials of genetically modified potatoes which if passed would mean the loss of Ireland’s GM free status. The perception of Irish produce in the US as in many other countries is of wholesome, clean food they can trust. Why would we want to lose our precious clean green image on which so much depends when there are already several varieties of blight resistant potatoes that could be further developed instead?  With GM, if something unexpected goes wrong and there are already numerous examples of unintended consequences with GM crops, it’s not a question of product recall, once the ‘genie is out of the bottle’ there’s no going back- you only lose your virginity once!


Spring is well and truly here, so this weekend I’ll include a few more recipes from my new Traditional Irish Cooking book.

We’ve been enjoying the sea kale from the garden for the past few weeks – it’s a deliciously delicate plant that has been growing around our coast for centuries. People learned that if they excluded light it became pale and tender, each plant was jealously guarded and hidden and eventually it was domesticated in walled gardens of the great house. Potters were commissioned to make tall terracotta pots with lids to cover the plants so the plant could grow and blanch inside.

The season is almost over so you’ll need to be fast, alternatively plant a few plants for next year, it’s not easy to find in the shops but Farmers Markets occasionally sell it.

Nonetheless the Irish asparagus season is just beginning, we have five tiny spears peeking out of the ground, and this is another perennial plant that is well worth growing. It’s one of life’s real luxuries and again the season is short so its heaven to be able to have a few little feasts of asparagus.


Traditional Irish Cooking by Darina Allen is published by Gill and MacMillan.


Asparagus on Grilled Bread with Hollandaise Sauce


Both asparagus and seakale have long associations with country house cooking in Ireland, when they were grown in the kitchen gardens of the ‘big house’. Hollandaise sauce or melted butter was the preferred accompaniment, rather than French dressing, which is a more recent accompaniment.


Serves 4


16–20 spears of fresh asparagus

4 slices of bread – we use Arbutus Biggie from Declan Ryan’s artisan bakery




sprigs of chervil


Trim the asparagus and cook in boiling salted water until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Meanwhile, make the Hollandaise Sauce (see below). Toast or chargrill the bread, butter it and remove the crusts. Place a piece of toast on a hot plate, place 4 or 5 pieces of asparagus on top and spoon a little Hollandaise sauce over it. Garnish with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.


Seakale with Melted Butter


Serves 4-6


450g (1lb) seakale

55-75g (2-3oz) butter or Hollandaise Sauce – see recipe.

salt and freshly ground pepper


Wash the seakale gently and trim into manageable lengths – about 10cm (4 inches).  Bring about 600ml (1 pint) water to a fast rolling boil, add one teaspoon salt.  Pop in the seakale, cover and boil until tender – 5 to 15 minutes depending on thickness.


Just as soon as a knife will pierce the seakale easily, drain it and then serve on hot plates with a little melted butter and perhaps a few small triangles of toast.  At the beginning of its short season in April we serve it as a first course on hot toast with melted butter or Hollandaise sauce (see recipe).


Hollandaise Sauce


2 egg yolks, free-range

1 dessertspoon cold water

110g (4oz) butter, cut into dice

1 teaspoon lemon juice (approximately)


Put the egg yolks into a heavy stainless-steel saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water. Add the water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or of slightly ‘scrambling’, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to a light coating consistency.


Wild Garlic Champ


Potatoes could be relied on to satisfy hearty appetites, and in farming households, milk and butter would usually have been plentiful.  One of the best-loved ways of cooking potatoes was (and is) to mash them with boiling milk, add chopped scallions or chives and serve this creamy.  Champ was economical as well as nutritious and tasty.  Also, no shopping was required, since all the ingredients were to hand.  I came across many regional variations on the champ theme, some called by different names.  Champ is best made with the traditional main crop potato varieties, like Golden Wonder and Kerr’s Pinks.  Leeks, nettles, peas and brown crispy onions are all delicious additions.


Serves 4


6–8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

55g (2oz) scallions or spring onions, (use the bulb and green stem)

55g (2oz) wild garlic

350ml (12fl oz) full-cream milk

55-110g (2-4oz) approximately, butter

salt and freshly ground pepper


Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.  Chop finely the scallions or spring onions and the wild garlic.  Cover the scallions/spring onions and wild garlic with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse.  Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and, while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions/wild garlic.  Beat in some of the butter.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.


Serve in one large or 4 individual bowls with a generous knob of butter melting in the centre.


Note: Champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin.


Poached Leg of Mutton with Parsley Sauce


Kay Harte, from the much-loved Farmgate Café upstairs in Cork City’s English Market, shared this recipe with us. Kay constantly features local produce on her menu, if possible from the market downstairs. The corned mutton is supplied by Paul and Alan from Coughlan’s Butchers in the market. They bone the leg of lamb and open it out, then corn it for about 36 hours and it is absolutely mouth-watering. Any leftovers can be converted, very simply, into a mutton pie the next day.


Serves 6–8


1 leg of corned mutton – around

2½kg (5lb 8oz)

2 bay leaves

2 onions, quartered

2 carrots, cut into chunks

2 leeks, cut into chunks

900g (2lb) potatoes


Parsley sauce (See Irish Examiner Saturday 31st March)


Put the leg of mutton into a large pot and add enough water to cover. Add the bay leaves, onions, carrots and leek (Kay says she just chops the onions into quarters and adds them ’skin and all’); these are to flavour the cooking water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer very slowly with the lid on for 1½–2 hours – depending on how big the piece of mutton is. When cooked, turn off the heat and leave to rest in the cooking liquid until ready to carve. Put well-scrubbed local potatoes into a steamer; they usually take about 30 minutes, depending on size. When cooked, remove the lid and put a damp tea towel on top while you are waiting to serve. This helps the ‘floury’ process! Make the Parsley Sauce while the potatoes are cooking. Kay says that either mashed turnip or mashed carrot and parsnip are lovely served with this dish. You can cook the vegetables in the mutton broth for added flavour. Mash them with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of local honey. Creamy mash or scallion champ are good with this too.


Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle


Serves 8–10

2 layers of homemade sponge cake or 450g (1lb) bought trifle sponges (trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less custard)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam

150–175ml (5–6fl oz) best quality sweet or medium sherries – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry


Egg Custard


5 eggs, free-range if possible

1¼ tablespoons caster sugar

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750ml (1¼ pint) rich milk




600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 glacé cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you

use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. Next make the egg custard. Whisk the eggs

with the sugar and vanilla extract. Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the

egg, whisking all the time. Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the

custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm (¾in) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre

(3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along. Pour in some

of the homemade egg custard and then add another layer of sponge. Sprinkle with the

remainder of the sherry. Spread the rest of the custard over the top. Cover and leave for

5–6 hours, or preferably overnight, to mature.

Before serving, spread whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like, and

decorate the trifle with glacé cherries or crystallised violets and diamonds of angelica.




Darina Allen will celebrate the launch of her new book with a cookery demonstration of  recipes from Irish Traditional Cooking in Arnotts Department Store, Dublin at 1.30pm on Friday 20th April – all welcome.


The Café at the End of the Shop at Ballymaloe House is now opening on Friday evenings from 7pm to 9:30pm for Spanish style small plates – the menu changes weekly – might be, plates of hand-cut Iberico de Bellota Jamon, Woodside Farm pork ribs, borlotti bean curry… wine and cava served by the glass. Contact Dervilla O’Flynn for details – 086-8136928 or 021-4652032.


Handmade knives from Gubbeen – If you have a few bob spare think of investing in one of Fingal Ferguson’s handmade knives – believe me they’ll be collectors’ items before too long – phone 028-27824.


Join nutritionists Debbie Shaw and Linn Thorsstenson for their new 1-day course “Healthy Eating on a Budget for all Ages”  on Saturday April 21st, Ambassador Hotel, Cork City, from 10am to 4.30pm – visit, email: or tel: 086-7855868.


Tart Anglo Irish Bakery Great new little Café in Portobello Docks, Kensal Road in London – next door to the Dock Kitchen – don’t miss it – 00447747723812.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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