While the humble potato has indeed been a staple for the Irish since the early 1600’s, until recently most references to their cuisine give the impression that there is not much else going on in the Irish kitchen other than bowls of Mash, Shepherd’s Pie or Guinness Lamb Stew. This is simply not true today. Nothing against the potato–I’m a huge fan and I recognize the role it has played in sustaining the people of Ireland for the past four hundred plus years. However, it is fair to say there is a food renaissance currently simmering in Ireland; it’s real and gently, respectfully moves boiled potatoes to a side dish rather than main course.
The reasons for the food revolution are many—from culinary innovators to local farmers to local resources now being given their due. Ireland can rightly boast of being home to some of the finest locally grown and harvested ingredients on the planet. Organically grown produce is diverse and plentiful and currently featured in a wide variety of eateries from Michelin restaurants to local pubs. Cattle and sheep are raised and finished on lush, sweet Irish grasses yielding meat that is flavorful, tender and utterly delicious—thankfully no GMO corn or soy finishes here. I’m not sure what they feed their chickens, but the eggs have rich yellow yolks and a smooth creamy flavor compared to the often bland eggs stateside. Is there any butter or cream sweeter or richer than that found in Ireland? And the seafood! From mussels to mackerel and wild Atlantic salmon–the seafood is as fresh and varied as it gets and provides bases for exceptional chowders and bisques, croquettes and filets, and by far and away the finest fish and chips I’ve tasted. Chefs are dancing in the kitchen.
To be sure, the traditional faire we love and associate with Ireland is still very much alive and well—the full Irish Breakfast, fresh Brown Bread and Irish butter, of course tea and scones with cream that I swear—if enjoyed often—will lead to enlightenment. And—of course—the potato in as many forms as you can imagine. These are the staples, the comfort foods that we count on, that will continue to lure us back. But now they share the table with exciting new dishes and tastes that rightfully celebrate the unique bounty of Ireland.