What Do the Irish Eat on St. Patrick’s Day?

Barbara Revsine

If you go to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day expecting an over-the-top, Guinness-fueled celebration coupled with a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, you’re likely to be disappointed.  St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, died on March 17th, and the anniversary of his death typically includes Mass and a traditional Irish dinner, a category that-for the most part- doesn’t include corned beef.

In “The Irish Heritage Cookbook”(Chronicle Books, 19.95) author Margaret M. Johnson says corned beef and cabbage is “the quintessential Irish-American meal,” adding that she has it “on good authority that it’s eaten only in two counties in Ireland: Dublin and Cork.”  So how did corned beef become so popular?

Irish-American immigrants, hungry for a taste of home, found that the corned beef in America tasted a lot like the bacon and ham in Ireland. Since the latter wasn’t widely available, they used corned beef instead. Cabbage, like potatoes, was a staple, and it paired as well with corned beef as it did with Irish ham and bacon. So if corned beef isn’t the protein of choice for St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, what is?

When I was last in Ireland, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner anchored by freshly caught trout and Irish soda bread still warm from the oven. The trout was simply prepared, so fresh that it needed nothing more than some butter, salt, and pepper. As for the Irish soda bread served with it, there was nothing left save a few crumbs.

The following dish, which is from Margaret Johnson’s “The New Irish Table” (Chronicle Books, $24.95), takes only a few minutes of prep time. Johnson credits the recipe to David FitzGibbon of  Aherne’s Seafood Bar in Youghal, County Cork. Aherne’s is also a guest house, at least it was when the book was published in 2003.

Cod in a Parcel

4 cod fillets (5-6-ounces each)

1 cup wild mushrooms, chopped

¼ cup chopped leek

1 small stalk celery, julienned

1 small carrot, julienned

2-3 sprigs flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

¼ cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon Herb Butter (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350-degree F. Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil.

Place the cod fillets in the prepared pan and cover with the mushrooms, leek, celery, carrot and herbs. Pour the wine over the fish, dot with the herb butter, and wrap the fish in the foil, sealing the edges well. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

To serve, place a fish fillet in the center of each plate and spoon the sauce over the top.

Herb Butter

In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons unsalted room-temperature butter with one clove shallot (minced), ½ tablespoon minced fresh chives, 1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh chervil, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Stir to blend. Refrigerate any leftover butter to use on grilled, broiled, or poached fish.  

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