I’ve just stepped off a plane from New York armed with a bright green bagel to give my cookery students a real taste of St Patrick’s Day in The Big Apple. The purpose of this trip was, as ever was to promote Ireland and all things Irish and to dispel the myth once and for all, that we live solely on Corned Beef and Cabbage and Irish Stew. Not only that, but I like to spread the word about the exciting renaissance that is taking place on the Irish food scene, the quality of our produce, our meat fed on the lush green pastures, the fish from around our coast, the farmhouse cheese industry, and the emergence of a whole new generation of small artisanal food producers. I sing the praises of the creative cooks and chefs who at last realise the quality of our raw materials and reassure visitors that its no longer a case of coming to Ireland just for the scenery and friendly people, now they can taste delicious food also. This has been my message on many TV and chat shows for 10 or 12 years now. The message was gradually getting through but this year was quite a challenge. Its less than a year since I was last in New York, in that short time BSE and FMD have caused a sea change in the American perception of European food. Hitherto, we as Europeans were inclined to be sniffly about American food – all that fast food, hamburgers, bagels, diet sodas …. Europeans were not about to accept US beef with its supplements and growth promoters, causing a furore with the World Trade Organisation. Nor surprisingly, Foot and Mouth Disease, hot on the heels of BSE, has sent tremors of panic through Americans planning to travel to Europe. Every news bulletin over St Patricks’s weekend gave graphic description of the slaughter of animals in Britain , alongside the news that the parade in Dublin has been cancelled as a precautionary measure to keep Foot and Mouth at bay. Somehow the message got garbled in most peoples’ minds. Everyone I spoke to seems convinced that Ireland too was rife with Hoof and Mouth as they call it. I had several extraordinary conversations with well educated Americans which illustrate the confusion. On Wednesday I told the chef in the Sky Club in Manhattan how much I enjoyed the Liver with glazed onions and mash that he had cooked for me – I remarked that I hadn’t eaten liver for ages and had almost forgotten how delicious it was. He astonished me by saying in all seriousness – “Oh yes of course you can’t eat liver or meat in Ireland or Europe with BSE and Food and Mouth” – I was shocked and tried to set him straight but he was still sceptical. Next day I was chatting to the make-up girl at NBC as I waited to go on the Today Show, she confided that she was leaving New York soon to move with her boyfriend to London, “What fun, London’s a fantastic buzzy city – you’ll love it” I enthused – she seemed extraordinarily glum about the whole idea – When I inquired why she wasn’t thrilled, she told me in a deadly serious tone of voice, that she was really concerned that she was really interested in healthy food and what she “put into her body, ” consequently she was hugely concerned that she wouldn’t be able to find safe healthy food in the UK! I did my best to reassure her as I was called into the studio for my precious five minute segment, during which I had to make a Beef and Guinness Stew. I was so determined to tell all of America that there were no cases of Hoof and Mouth in Ireland (The Today Show has an estimated 4 million viewers and is shown right across the time zones.), that I forgot to add the mushrooms to the stew! Later that day I had lunch with Zanne Stewart, food editor of Gourmet magazine, the largest selling food and travel magazine in the US. She confirmed that the general perception was that it was no longer safe to eat European meat, worse still, an astonishing number of Americans believe that Ireland and Britain are all one place anyway. Don’t underestimate the impact this perception will have on our tourist industry, particularly now that Foot and Mouth has arrived in Ireland.
Irish Colcannon Soup
Colcannon is one of Irelands best loved traditional potato dishes. Fluffy mashed potato flecked with cooked cabbage or kale. This soup uses identical ingredients to make a delicious soup
55g (2oz) butter
425g (15oz) peeled diced potatoes
110g (4oz) diced onions
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1.1 litre (2pint) home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock
450g (1lb) cabbage
25g (1oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
130ml (4 fl oz) creamy milk
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft.
Meanwhile make the buttered cabbage Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain. Put 2-3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter.
Add the cabbage to the soup, puree in a blender or food processor with the freshly chopped herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.
Beef with Beamish, Murphy or Guinness
This was a big hit with the crew of the Today Show
2 lbs (900g) lean stewing beef, eg. Chuck
3 tablespoons (45ml /4 American tablespoons) olive oil
2 thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar
1 teaspoon dry English Mustard
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon+ 1 teaspoon) concentrated tomato puree
1 strip of dried orange peel
a bouquet garni made up of 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of fresh thyme, 4 parsley stalks.
1/2 pint (300ml/11/4 cups) Beamish, Murphy or Guinness
1/2 pint (300ml/11/4 cups) beef stock
8 ozs (225g/4 cups) mushrooms
1/2 oz (15g/one-eighth stick) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the meat into 11/2 inch (4cm) cubes and toss in seasoned flour. Heat some oil in a hot pan and fry the meat in batches until it is brown on all sides. Transfer the meat into a casserole and add a little more oil to the pan. Fry the thinly-sliced onions until nicely browned ; deglaze with the stout. Transfer to the casserole, add the stock, sugar, mustard, tomato puree, orange rind and bouquet garni. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer in a very low heat, 150C/300f/ regulo 2, for 2-21/2 hours or until the meat is tender. Meanwhile wash and slice the mushrooms. Saute in a very little melted butter in a hot pan. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside. When the stew is cooked, add the mushrooms and simmer for 2-3 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Note: This stew reheats well. You may need to add more sugar to the recipe if you find it a little bitter.