One of the questions I am most frequently asked is "What is Irish Cuisine?". The strength of any food prepared and eaten in Ireland usually lies in the native raw ingredients - as an island, and one with many lakes and rivers, fish and seafood are plentiful; cows graze in grass fields (they are largely fed on an all-grass diet, except in winter, when they eat silage, which is a fermented grass product.); lots of vegetables and fruit are grown locally (others are imported from Israel and the greenhouses of Holland, amongst other places) ...
A good traditional Irish dish will be a simple affair allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves. Although widely used today, what traditional Irish cuisine - especially country cooking - lacks is many of the herbs and spices that many other European countries leverage in their cooking, only showing up occasionally. Perhaps one reason for this, amongst many, is that the Romans never conquered Ireland, so could not leave their culinary legacy, to name one group whose brought seeds and grew plants as they settled throughout the world. In Ireland, two millenia ago, they found a place that was simply too cold, as their name for it informs us: Hibernia - "land of winter". Certainly there was some later trade with Spain and other countries with a legacy of flavourful cuisine, and many of the large manor houses, as well as middle- and upper-class city-dwellers near sea-ports, may have had access to spices, but for the most part they are absent from the few "traditional" Irish dishes, where the cooks relied on a few wild green herbs to add flavour to their meals.
So, today is St. Patrick's Day. I'm sitting in my Greenwich Village apartment, listen to the noisy throng outside on Bleecker Street move from bar to bar, wondering if I'll get any sleep tonight. I was even out for a pint myself (just the one, though I've some more in the fridge) at the Slaughtered Lamb on West 4th Street. All around the country people have been tucking into corned beef and cabbage with gusto. Corned beef and cabbage, is Irish-American, not native-Irish per se, an example how adaptation and use of local ingredients by immigrant ethnic groups leads to all kinds of legitimate new cuisines. Back home we'd eat bacon and cabbage (bagun agus cabaiste in Irish*), which is a traditional Irish dish, and one often eaten on St. Patrick's Day, along with potatoes - either boiled or as champ, which is mashed potato with chopped scallions in it. Not sure why corned beef came to be used in the USA, perhaps beef seemed "fancier", a way of showing one's relative prosperity in America, than the pork and ham products they'd like have eaten more of (when they even ate meat) back home. Regardless they are both essentially "boiled dinners" and can be made entirely in a single pot if one likes.
Tonight I made "Dublin Coddle" at home, not having had the foresight to procure some boiling bacon on time. I ate coddle several times as a child, though it wasn't exactly a staple in our house - I think my mum tried to steer us clear of many of the traditional Irish dishes as she experimented with international cookery. Dublin Coddle is a simple one-pot affair, a simple stew based on sausages and bacon (use rashers, the meaty kind of back bacon you can find at Irish and English specialty stores), and cooks fairy quickly. It is not very complex, but has a broth that is more flavourful than the startlingly few ingredients might suggest. Don't be tempted to mess around with the ingredients - don't, for instance, use a chicken stock as a base, don't brown the meat before adding the other ingredients, and don't use any herbs other than some parsley. But most of all, don't add a carrot for colour or flavour (just as you shouldn't with Irish stew). Regarding potatoes, in general the Irish like a floury potato, which will break down a little in the broth. You could try mixing your potatoes, one waxy, one floury, so you have some potato in the stew with a little more body, if you like.
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 medium onions, quartered
8 pork sausages (chipolata or other Irish or English breakfast sausage)
Freshly ground black pepper
Large sprig of flat-leaf parsley, and more, minced, to garnish
Salt, to taste
In a large pot, place the sliced potatoes in one layer, followed by the onions, then the sausage, then the bacon. Add a good few spritzes of black pepper, and the sprig or parsley. Add cold water to just cover. Bring to a boil slowly, and then simmer over medium heat for about 30 more minutes. Skim the surface occasionally to remove any scum. Check the seasoning, and add salt if required (the bacon may have been salty enough) and more black pepper. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
We drank some Murphy's Stout with ours. Yes, yes, not a Dublin drink at all, so I was mixing it up a little. La Fheile Padraig Sona Daoibh,everyone!
* We don't call the language "Gaelic". It is called "Irish", if you are referring to it in English. If you are speaking Irish, then you can call it "Gaeilge".