You can smell it before the bowl hits the table: chunks of beef, potatoes, onions and carrots, all glistening in a gravy that hints of Guinness, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. It’s the stew served at just about every Stateside pub that sports a Celtic font.
Except it’s not really Irish.
“Definitely gives people the wrong idea,” says chef-restaurateur Cathal Armstrong, who just published “My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve,” with co-author David Hagedorn (Ten Speed Press). The Irish stew in their book is closer to the real deal, but even that recipe calls for the non-traditional step of first searing the meat — lamb on the bone — to give it color. Armstrong confirms that a thin, bland broth, onions and potatoes are the other authentic components.
The only thickener is the spuds, which you’d mash with the back of your fork, he says. And, after offering a brief history of the dish, he ends with an unlikely general assessment: “Realistically, it’s not that good.”
Armstrong suspects our pervasive pub versions have been beefed up to keep restaurant costs in line (lamb is more expensive) and to cater to American palates that are, on the whole, not into the other red meat.
The story of real Irish food was what Armstrong wanted to tell, through personal remembrance and simplified recipes. Early reviews have responded with enthusiasm. The book also reflects the journey of his flagship Alexandria restaurant, which turns 10 this year. (Not to be missed: his ode to the blue cheese of Cashel, in County Tipperary, and a savory corned beef.)
It’s a testament to modern Ireland that its cuisine can pay homage to a past marked by deprivation even as it celebrates all that’s now grown and raised in country. In “Irish Table,” and in two other recent Irish titles we cooked from to usher in St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll find fish pies and Dublin coddles. But odds are good that you’ll also be marking the pages for homemade bran flakes link to recs and crustless spinach pies. Erin, go brag.
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