Irish delights

Beef and Guiness Casserole   hero

Even though St Patrick’s Day was a day or so ago, it set me thinking that few people of legal drinking age haven’t at some time or another marked it in the time-honoured fashion: by going out in enthusiastic, thirsty pursuit of Guinness, Ireland’s most high-profile liquid asset. That and the craic, of course, either genuine or simulated. It’s an essential rite of passage, a birthright to which every British citizen is entitled. The question of whether your family tree features any Irish ancestry, of course, is irrelevant.

But this year, we at are making an impassioned plea for any festivities not to be focused merely on that one day and the contents of a pint glass – although if you’re lining up some Dublin Bay prawns next to your Guinness (or Murphy’s, or Beamish) go ahead and award yourself a few bonus points. While stout is indeed nutritious (supposedly) and delicious (definitely), there are other magnificent Irish staples to be tried, such as soda bread. An almost ridiculously easy bread to master, it was once known as soda cake because of the inclusion of buttermilk as one of the ingredients. We’re not aware of any long-established, Jaffa cake type ‘cake versus bread’ arguments, though – but the tradition of adding fruit mixture at festive times of year lives on, as this fruit and seed soda bread recipe shows. It also features live yogurt, a useful stand-in if you can’t get hold of buttermilk.

Once something of a tired culinary cliché, Irish stew now seems very in step with the times: thrifty, nutritious and in tune with the slow cooking trend. It’s the kind of dish that can be bunged in a casserole, popped in the oven and left to its own devices for an hour or two while you go and do something far more interesting – brushing up on the rules of Gaelic football, for instance. Beef or lamb are the classic choices for this recipe, or our updated take on it beef and Guinness casserole, but be warned: serving it with anything other than the omnipresent Irish accompaniment, mashed potato (or its variants, colcannon and champ) is probably illegal.

Best choice for the morning after? Probably an Irish breakfast. The presence of all the usual suspects (bacon, egg, tomato, sausage) might indicate that the only difference between it and a full English is its postcode. But you’ll have reckoned without the inclusion of both black and white pudding (like black, but without the blood), and potato farls. And if you can’t wait until morning, it’s excellent ballast for a night’s drinking – on St Patrick’s Day or any other. 

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