The thermometer’s popping 50 and the humdity’s up and down: everyone’s down to dashing between car and house, car and work, car and mall. It’s that time of year, folks, when you just HAVE to sit down to eat a hot meal of food that was meant to be eaten in cold, winter climates!
This is traditional Irish cooking at its most traditional and Irish. And there’s only one way to cook it, too.
Sarah’s dad is a builder and, as men go, is pretty set in his ways. He’s home for lunch on the dot of noon and home for tea at 6 precisely. This is his favourite food, eaten with a glass of milk and great hunks of golden butter for the ‘shpuds’. And God help anyone that introduced a slip of garlic or, shudder, omitted the parsley sauce. The shpuds are the great challenge because, as anyone who has ever even looked across the Irish Sea knows, Irish shpuds are ‘floury’: there’s nothing like a bag of Irish ‘British Queens’ (and they giggle every time they buy them, because of the name), properly boiled up so that the skins split when they’re removed from the water and put on the hot range to wait for everyone to be good and ready - light, fluffy and just right for that all-important slab of butter to melt across them and soak into them. How can you get a spud like it in the Emirates? Well, you could pile down to the organic, where you’ll likely find ‘Irish potatoes’ on sale (they’re actually African, but let us not to quibble). You can use the red-skinned things that Spinneys sells, but they’re a bit waxy, as are the Lebanese potatoes that are all around us. If you can find something a little ‘older’ with a thicker skin, try it. But whatever you use, it’s very important to shake your head while you’re eating them and talk about how they’re not the same as a ‘good Irish shpud’.
A few words on bacon. Bacon is Irish for ham.
This is the national food of a nation of people that disdain formality and pomp: simple, good grub to line your stomach before you pile off down to Mahers, Molly’s or Mungovans, whichever it may be, for the craic and a few pints. Do give it a whirl - it’s just ideal for the Emirates in August!!!
- @1.5kg piece of bacon
- @750g savoy cabbage
- @1.2kg potatoes
Soak the bacon in a pan, covered with water, ideally overnight but you can do it for an hour or so. You can use green or smoked bacon: entirely up to you: if you’ve got it from Spinneys it should be nicely tied. If not, you’d better know how to tie bacon! Now bring the bacon up to a boil. While it’s doing that, boil a kettle of water. Now remove the water the bacon’s boiling in, including the foam that will have formed around and about, and then pour the boiling water in to cover the bacon and boil it again. Bring the boil down to a lively simmer so that bubbles are forming but it’s not going mad – and now give the bacon around 25 minutes per 500g of weight. At the end of the cooking time, test it by putting a sharp knife through the middle, it should plunge in quite easily. If not, give it a few more minutes and then retest it. Obviously you have to be sensible here, because if you keep going at it like a bunch of senators around a Caesar, you’ll end up with an awful mess of hacked bacon.
While the bacon’s doing its boiling, you can focus on the vegetables. First the shpuds: give these a good scrub, but leave them in their skins. You can either remove any ‘eyes’ from the potatoes or, as is traditional in Ireland, leave ‘em in. Start them off by pouring boiling water over them. They’ll need to boil for something like 25 minutes, but that’s really a product of your cooker – again, a test with a sharp, pointy knife should tell you, you’re looking for a clean plunge with perhaps a slight touch of 'edge' as you get near the centre. Remove them from the heat, drain them and put them somewhere warm in a dish. (While the shpuds are boiling is when I’d usually knock up the parsley sauce.)
The cabbage should be quartered and the tough stalk cut out. Then you can chop it into chunky, 3cm pieces. Incidentally, I would use the tougher outer leaves to make cabbage soup rather than chuck ‘em away.
As soon as the bacon’s cooked, remove it from the boiling water and do not throw the water out! Put the bacon to rest somewhere warm and add the cabbage to the bacon water. This will not take too long to cook, 10 minutes or so. You’re looking for just tender and still with a slight 'bite' rather than grey and slimy. Drain the cabbage and replace it in the pan with a knob of butter.
And now you’re good to go: slice the bacon, add the cabbage to each plate and serve it up along with a dish of piping hot spuds and a boat of parsley sauce for people to serve themselves. And don’t forget the butter for the shpuds!!!