Only one vegetable has been both a blessing and a curse for the Irish, and that is the potato.
No sooner had the impoverished country come to rely on the blight-prone tuber as its main source of food than disaster struck.
Between 1845 and 1852, the potato famine cost Ireland nearly a quarter of its population. About one million people died of starvation. Another million migrated to avoid the same fate.
Crop diversity gradually put potatoes back on the table, with traditional Irish dishes such as boxty, champ and colcannon taking pride of place.
Although no longer cooked over an open fire in a cauldron and on a skillet, they are still popular today.
There are as many recipes for these delicious concoctions as there are cooks, but the basic elements are the same.
To make my version of the potato cakes known as boxty, mix 250g grated potato with 100g flour in a large bowl.
Combine with an equal quantity of mashed potato, then stir in a beaten egg and a dash of milk. Season with salt and pepper.
Form into cakes and fry in a pan – I use oil and butter – over a medium-high heat until both sides are golden-brown. Scatter with chopped chives if you like.
A good champ demands flavoursome floury potatoes, such as agrias, and plenty of butter. Cook 750g of peeled and chopped potatoes until tender. Meanwhile, slice 6 spring onions, including the green part, and simmer in 300ml milk for about 15 minutes. Mash the drained potatoes, mixing in the milky brew as you go. Season.
Mound the hot mash in heated bowls, make a well in the centre and pop in a huge lump of butter.
Dip forkfuls of potato from around the edge into the melted butter and eat your way into the centre. Scrumptious!
Colcannon is champ's cousin, with the emphasis on cabbage. Cook separately 750g peeled and chopped potatoes and half a head of chopped savoy cabbage until tender. Mash the drained potatoes with warmed milk and toss the cabbage in 1 heaped Tbsp butter.
Add the cabbage to the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
In the north, they fry an onion in a pan, press the potato-cabbage mixture into it and cook both sides until crusty.
Today's recipe is another traditional dish that calls on potatoes. Mutton always featured in an Irish stew, but these days hogget will do. Lamb is too delicate for the long cooking time.
Purists insist that vegetables other than potatoes should not be added, but onions, leeks and carrots not only give extra flavour, but make this a hearty one-potter that all the family will enjoy.
Ingredients (serves 4)
8 thick mutton or hogget chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
6 waxy potatoes (such as desiree), thickly sliced
Few sprigs thyme
750ml beef stock
2 or 3 savoy cabbage leaves, sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
Method: Heat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
Season chops with salt and pepper.
In a large enamelled casserole dish, heat oil until hot and brown chops on both sides.
Remove chops to a plate.
Add onion to casserole dish and cook until soft and golden.
Transfer half the chops to the dish and cover with half the vegetables.
Repeat the layers, finishing with the potatoes.
Tuck sprigs of thyme here and there.
Add stock, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Add cabbage, if using, and cook for another 30 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are tender.
Ladle the stew into deep bowls, scatter with parsley and serve.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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