The dishes this week are meant to represent food from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. I love potatoes so I knew this was going to be a great week!
Ireland is a large island in the North Atlantic Ocean, situated to the west of Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland (officially just named ‘Ireland’) occupies five-sixths of the island, while Northern Ireland takes up the remaining sixth.
Gaelic Ireland emerged around the 1st century AD; it was made up of a group of territories ruled by kings or chiefs. These territories did not always get along, and war was common.
Gaelic Ireland was initially pagan and had a rich culture prizing poetry, music, storytelling, literature, and other art forms. Druids were held in high regard, and it was their duty to pass down the history and traditions of their people. From the 5th century onwards, Ireland began to convert to Christianity, and some of the druids’ tasks were taken over by Christian monks. However, the druids maintained a high position in Irish society. Today, Irish culture still has a significant influence.
During the 9th century, Vikings began raiding Ireland’s coasts and waterways. They built settlements, which became the island’s first large towns. The people who settled there were eventually assimilated into the rest of the population.
The Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland during the 12th century, and England claimed sovereignty. However, it took until the Tudor conquest in the 16th and 17th centuries for English rule to extend over the whole island.
Ireland became part of the United Kingdom in 1801, but they fought a war of independence in the early 20th century which is how the island was divided. Now Northern Island remains a part of the United Kingdom, while Ireland is a separate country.
What Do People Eat in Ireland?
Potatoes! At least, that was what I was thinking leading up to this week. It turns out, potatoes did not come to Ireland until the 16th century. They got really popular during the 18th century, after the Tudor conquest introduced a new agriculture system and started selling off traditionally consumed foods such as beef.
Before potatoes, grains such as oats, wheat, and barley were popular, and still are today. They are often cooked as porridge or baked into bread. Soda bread became popular because most of the flour available in Ireland was made from soft wheat, which did not work so well with yeast.
Irish cuisine throughout history has largely been based on whatever fresh produce is available, and there is still an emphasis on this today. Popular vegetables, aside from potatoes, include kale, cabbage, carrots, and onions, while some common fruits are apples, berries, pears, and plums.
Fresh fish and seafood are common, particularly in coastal communities, but they are thought to have been more popular in the past. When it comes to meat, lamb, pork, beef, and chicken are widely consumed.
Ireland has a strong dairy industry, producing some of the highest-quality milk, butter, and cheese in the world. Buttermilk is a popular component in Irish baking and cooking, most likely because it was always readily available at dairy farms.
What I Made
- Chicken Fillet Roll (Chicken Sandwich)
- Spice Bag (Spiced Fried Chicken and Fries)
- Irish Stew (Lamb Stew)
- Colcannon (Mashed Potato with Cabbage)
- Boxty (Potato Pancakes)
- Brown Soda Bread
- Seafood Chowder (Creamy Seafood Soup)
- Shepherd’s Pie (Mashed Potato-Topped Lamb Pie)
Scroll down to read about other popular Irish dishes I didn’t make!
Chicken Fillet Roll (Chicken Sandwich)
I started the week with a dish so simple, I initially did not consider making it. But the chicken fillet roll is apparently a very popular fast food staple in Ireland. A lot of people on the Ask Ireland subreddit suggested I make it, so I did!
I used a homemade baguette roll (leftover in the freezer from when I made them for my sosis bandari for Iran). I topped it with breaded and pan-fried chicken breast, though I think a fast food place would be more likely to deep fry. Sometimes the chicken can be spicy, but I kept mine fairly plain. I did marinate it in buttermilk with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika before breading. The toppings can vary a lot so I chose some that seem particularly popular. I used lettuce, tomato, red onion, cheese, and mayonnaise.
I didn’t follow a recipe for this, but I did read an article from Irish Mirror to help me decide on my toppings.
This tasted great, but mine didn’t look as good as I wanted it to. I think it’s because I had a giant chicken breast that I couldn’t cut into nice slices. At least the looks are ultimately not important when something tastes this good!
Spice Bag (Spiced Fried Chicken and Fries)
The spice bag is another popular fast food item in Ireland. It is inspired by Chinese cuisine, and it’s different from anything I’ve seen before. It consists of pieces of fried chicken, French fries, onion, and chili, seasoned with a spice blend which typically includes Chinese five-spice.
For my spice bag, I used chicken thighs which I chopped into chunks and marinated for an hour in buttermilk. Then I coated them in flour mixed with some of the spice blend: a mixture of Chinese five-spice, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, white pepper, and sugar. I pan-fried the chicken until it was crispy and cooked through. Then I added onion slices to the oil, and after a few minutes more I added sliced jalapeño and minced garlic to cook for just a minute or so.
I cheated here and used oven fries, so then I just had to mix them with the chicken and onion mixture. I sprinkled more of the spice blend over the whole lot and then it was ready.
This was amazing! I really enjoyed the combination of spices and it’s something I’m sure I will use again. A spice bag is often served with curry sauce, which I did not include this time. It’s something I would like to try in future, though I don’t think this needed more flavor.
The recipe I used is from Nordzucker Ireland.
Irish Stew (Lamb Stew)
Irish stew is a simple mix of slow-cooked mutton, onion, and potatoes, and it is considered Ireland’s national dish. Some recipes include carrot and/or turnips, and nowadays lamb is more common than mutton.
This is one of those dishes that is very simple to make, but very flavorful. First I browned the lamb, then I removed it from the pot and cooked the carrot and onion. After a few minutes, I returned the meat to the pot with some chicken broth, thyme, and potatoes. The recipe said to cook it slowly in the oven, but I put it on the stovetop instead. After about an hour or so, the stew was ready (it would take longer with mutton).
This was delicious! I served it with colannon (next).
The recipe I used is from the New York Times.
Colcannon (Mashed Potato with Cabbage)
Colcannon is a twist on mashed potatoes where the potatoes are combined with cabbage or kale, and often green onions too. I’ve actually made it a few times before this challenge, but I knew it would go well with my Irish stew so I decided to make it again. I did follow a different recipe than my usual.
Previously I’ve just boiled the potato and cabbage together (though I add the cabbage later) and then mashed it with cream and butter. This time, I followed a recipe that called for sautéing the cabbage in butter while the potatoes boiled. I mashed the potatoes with milk, then added the cabbage and green onion and stirred to combine. I think I preferred this method; the cabbage tastes nice cooked this way. The recipe included optional cheddar, which I did not use, though I’m sure that would also be delicious!
The recipe I used is from Culinary Ginger. I swear I followed the recipe exactly but somehow her colcannon looks more green than mine!
Boxty (Potato Pancakes)
Boxty are potato pancakes, commonly served for breakfast with bacon and eggs. They are often made with both leftover mashed potato and raw grated potato.
The recipe I used called for combining mashed potato, raw grated potato, flour, baking soda, and green onions. I added buttermilk, salt, and pepper, and that was my pancake mixture. Then I just cooked them like… well, pancakes!
I served my boxty with bacon and a fried egg, and they were really good. Definitely something I would make again!
The recipe I used is from Donal Skehan and includes optional cheese. I think that would be delicious and I’ll try it next time.
Brown Soda Bread
I was initially planning on making regular white soda bread, but people in the Ask Ireland subreddit said they think brown soda bread is a bit more common. I’d also never made brown soda bread before, so that’s what I decided on.
This is made just like white soda bread, except with whole wheat flour. The recipe also called for bran, which I did not have, but I read ground flaxseed could be used as an alternative so I used that. I felt like it might be too much though, so I used flaxseed for half the bran called for in the recipe and replaced the other half with more whole wheat flour.
I mixed the flour and ground flaxseed with salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Then I mixed that with a combination of buttermilk and egg. I kneaded the dough until it came together. Next, I shaped it into a ball, flattened it slightly, and scored the top. I sprinkled the top with oats and baked until it was done.
This was really good, and not as dense as I had been expecting. I do think I needed to brush something on top to keep the oats on the bread though, since they pretty much all fell off! I served this with my seafood chowder (next).
This recipe is from I Am Baker.
Seafood Chowder (Creamy Seafood Soup)
I had never thought of seafood chowder and Irish food being related before, but according to the people I spoke to on Reddit, fish and seafood are quite popular. I wasn’t sure whether to make fish and chips, fish pie, or chowder. Ultimately, I decided on this Irish seafood chowder because it’s a bit healthier than fish and chips, and I was already making shepherd’s pie.
I started by cooking some bacon until it was crispy. Then I set it aside and cooked some potato, onion, garlic, and celery in the same pan. I covered them with chicken stock (I was meant to use fish or vegetable) and simmered while I cooked the fish.
I added shrimp, cod, and salmon to a pot with some milk and simmered just until everything was cooked through. Then I strained out the milk and added that to the vegetable mixture. I stirred in some cream, butter, and flour and simmered for a few minutes. Then I added the fish and shrimp to the pot with most of the bacon.
To serve, I sprinkled the remaining bacon on top, as well as some chopped parsley. This was a delicious dish!
To make this, I used a recipe from Gav’s Kitchen.
Shepherd’s Pie (Mashed Potato-Topped Lamb Pie)
This is a dish I knew I wanted to make for Ireland months ago! Shepherd’s pie consists of lamb and vegetables in a gravy or sauce, which is topped with mashed potato and then baked. You may have seen versions with beef instead of lamb, but be aware that this makes the dish ‘cottage pie’ instead. My mother used to make this fairly often when I was growing up. My favorite shepherd’s pie was when she would use leftover roast meat and gravy for the base. Super delicious!
To make my shepherd’s pie, I started by making the mashed potatoes. I chopped them, boiled them, and mashed them with butter before setting them aside while I cooked the meat mixture.
This recipe is probably a little more fancy than the traditional version; it calls for sprinkling gelatin over some chicken stock to be added later. I cooked ground lamb in some oil until browned, then added chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Next, I added tomato paste, then red wine, the chicken stock/gelatin mixture, thyme, bay leaves, and Worcestershire sauce. I stirred in some flour, then let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. I removed the thyme sprig and bay leaves, stirred in some peas, and then the meat mixture was ready.
Before assembling, I heated up some cream and stirred it into the mashed potatoes. I also seasoned them with salt and pepper. Then I spread the meat mixture over the bottom of my baking dish and spooned the mashed potato over the top. I roughly halved the recipe, so I used an 8×8-inch baking dish.
I baked the pie for about 20 minutes until it was starting to brown on top, and then it was ready! This is what it looks like on the inside:
This was so good, though I knew it would be. My father-in-law had two servings and took leftovers home!
The recipe I used for this is from Serious Eats.
Other Popular Irish Dishes
- Ulster fry – a traditional Northern Irish breakfast, typically consisting of bacon, white and/or black pudding, sausages, eggs, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fried soda bread. There also may be boxty. This is considered a little different from a full Irish breakfast, which doesn’t usually contain soda bread; otherwise, they are about the same.
- Boiled bacon and cabbage – as you can probably guess, this is made by boiling bacon and cabbage. It’s often served with a creamy parsley sauce. The bacon used isn’t readily available here; it’s called ‘boiling bacon’ and is usually a chunk of pork loin or sometimes shoulder. In the US, bacon is always, as far as I can tell, made from pork belly.
- Dublin coddle – a stew featuring potato, sausage, bacon, and onion, primarily popular in Dublin.
- Irish soda bread – very similar to the brown soda bread I made, except it’s made from white rather than whole wheat flour.
- Fifteens – a no-bake dessert from Northern Ireland. The name comes from the fact they are typically made with 15 digestive biscuits, 15 marshmallows, and 15 glacé cherries. These are combined with condensed milk, formed into a log, and covered with dried coconut. After a few hours in the fridge, the log is cut into 15 slices and served.
This was a great week! I think the shepherd’s pie was my favorite but really, all the food from Ireland was very good so it was hard to choose.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Israel.