Anyone can be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes. Even without being Irish, though, anyone can enjoy eating Irish food. “Agriculturally, Ireland is very wealthy,” chef Cathal Armstrong writes in “My Irish Table,” his award-winning cookbook. “Grass-fed beef and lamb are superlative. Irish butter ranks among the finest butters of the world, as do artisanal cheeses such as Cashel Blue and Dalhollow. As an island country, Ireland is also rich in fish and seafood, some of the most delectable shellfish you’d ever want to eat.”
Artisanal cheeses may not be the first thing that comes to mind to accompany a green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but Armstrong, who runs several successful restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area, insists that they’re more in keeping with the holiday than the Guinness-infused food that American St. Patrick’s Day celebrations often feature. “At home, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday that celebrates Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century,” he notes. “It is observed with the same kind of reverence that Americans have for Thanksgiving, but more solemn. We don’t drink green beer, we don’t dye the rivers green, and we don’t get really drunk. It is actually a stay-at-home day on which many pubs are closed.”
According to Armstrong, a big home-cooked family meal is more typical for the holiday than pub food. Lamb, a beef roast or a whole salmon are among his favorite meals for the occasion, but he also provides recipes for more casual celebrations, like a hearty stew. Armstrong contends that to be an authentic Irish stew, it should be made with lamb, but acknowledges that in the U.S., beef is more the norm. With either beef or lamb, his Irish stew is a good accompaniment to the beer that has become a part of the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
For those feeling just a little bit Irish, a traditional side dish may be enough to mark the day. The most iconic Irish vegetable dish is colcannon, a mixture of potatoes and greens such as cabbage, kale or a combination. Frugal cooks even use the green leaves from a head of cauliflower as the greens to pair with potatoes.
Armstrong has a wide repertoire of Irish desserts, both from his childhood and from years of running restaurants, and one of his favorites, Bakewell Tart, combines the best parts of pie and cake. “This jam-filled dessert is a pie shell with cake batter on top of it, so you can say it’s the best of both worlds,” he writes. It’s both an easy dessert to make and easy to customize, either by changing up the flavor of jam or jelly on the bottom or by adding sliced almonds, a dusting of powdered sugar or more fruit to the top. Armstrong suggests serving it with a custard sauce. Although he includes Bakewell Tart as a fitting close to an Irish meal, the dessert’s origins are thoroughly British; Bakewell is actually the name of a small village near Liverpool.