Although this holiday was originally a holiday to celebrate St Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, it has now become more of a celebration of Irish culture… including the food and drink. In the U.S. I feel like it’s especially focused on the “drink.” We wear our green and go out for Guiness and corned beef and cabbage. While the Guiness is clearly authentic Irish, the corned beef and cabbage is less so. But it does stem from an Irish background.
It is not actually a traditionally popular meal in Ireland, even on St Patrick’s Day. The term “corned beef” was coined by the British to describe the salt used in curing the beef. Ireland had a very low tax rate on imported high quality salt and a plentiful beef supply. They were prohibited from exporting cattle to England, so began to supply Europe and the Americas with this corned beef. Very few Irish could afford to eat it themselves. Corned beef & cabbage on St Patrick’s Day was more fueled by Irish-Americans living in New York.
So here are 5 traditional Irish foods that you should try this St Patrick’s Day alongside your Guinness.
#1 Irish Stew
Irish Stew is native to Ireland, and traditionally made with root vegetables and either lamb or mutton as the meat. The recipe has changed over time, and food historians generally believe that it was originally made with goat but is also now commonly made with beef. Potatoes were added after they were introduced from the Americas in the 16th century. The modern-day version typically includes carrots, onions, and parsley. You can even double down on the Irish by adding Guiness to the broth, which is probably more due to the great marketing of the beer rather than anything to do with tradition.
Try this recipe.
It is common for many regions of the world to have similar items, just with their won twist. Boxty is simply the Irish name for their version of potato pancakes. It is commonly associated with the northern part of Ireland. The potato is ground fine and then often covered in mashed potato and flour giving it a much smoother feel than other versions of potato pancakes, almost resembling a pancake.
#3 Soda Bread
Although attributed to Ireland and a staple of Irish kitchens, soda bread was actually first made by Native Americans. But when baking soda (also known as Sodium Bicarbonate) was introduced to Ireland in the 1830s, the recipe was replicated. It was an inexpensive way to make bread, combining only Irish grown soft wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and sour milk (now generally replaced with buttermilk). The baking soda mixed with the acidity of the milk causes the bread rise, rather than requiring yeast, and also caused small bubbles of carbon dioxide to form, giving it the unique texture.
The above may be familiar to you, but Colcannon likely is not. And like soda bread, became popular partially because it was inexpensive to make. It’s generally made of just four ingredients: mashed potato, butter, milk, and cabbage. Some variations can replace with cabbage with kale, and include things such as leeks, onions, or scallions. It is similar in nature to the English dish Bubble & squeak.
#5 Shepherd's Pie
Perhaps the most common dish in Irish bars across the U.S. is Shepherd’s pie. It’s beloved in Ireland, but perhaps rooted in English. First known as Cottage pie in the 1700s, it eventually became known as Shepherd’s pie.
It came together as a way to reuse food rather than wasting it by combining leftovers into a dish that could be re-served as a new meal. Just top the meat with mashed potato and bake!