Hot Dish hops the pond — my culinary adventures in Ireland
By Christine Ruotolo
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
As the Hot Dish writer, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to share my culinary adventures with you on a weekly basis. I get to eat amazing food, meet wonderful business owners, customers, and not only educate you on how food taste, but bring you into the culture that surrounds the food. It’s an adventure, sometimes it’s just around the corner, and other times, it’s thousands of miles away. Food has the ability to take us on these journeys and transport us through our taste buds.
I am excited to share with you this week’s special Hot Dish Hops the Pond. I literally hopped the pond to Ireland for a ten day “holiday” alone and joined forty-two other AAA members on a countrywide bus tour. I visited museums, castles, stunning old churches, stood alongside sweeping vistas of foggy laced craggy mountains, fields and bogs so lush, green and beautiful they took my breath away. I stood atop sheering two hundred-foot cliffs and fell in love with the land, culture, people, animals, and of course the food. My Ireland adventure took me from Dublin south to Kilkenny, Waterford, Killarney, The Ring of Kerry, Limerick, north to Galway, and Kingscourt just to name a few. I enjoyed visiting bustling cities, farmlands, seaside villages, going on landscape tours showcasing white sheep and rolling fog and then ending at a regal castle. Now let’s talk about what your waiting for, the food.
When we think of Ireland, we automatically think of potatoes, or as the Irish say, “poe-tay-toes.” The potato was introduced to Ireland in the fifteen hundreds and was a mainstay of Irish diets for hundreds of years. We have all heard of the Potato Famine in 1845 that destroyed almost three quarters of the potato crops, caused astronomical famine and over one million deaths. This prompted a lot of people to leave Ireland for America. Today, the potato is back up and running and widely served at almost every meal in Ireland. Along with potatoes, you will find breads, beer, fresh dairy products like milk, cheese, cream, butter, as well as root vegetables, cabbage and meats like lamb, pork and fish like Salmon and Haddock. Popular Irish dishes that many of us recognize are bangers & mash, Irish soda bread, and one of my favorites, the Irish stew which has been recognized as the national dish of Ireland for over two hundred years.
For my food tour, I focused on Dublin, Ireland which has an estimated six hundred and sixty-six licensed pubs and is home to Guinness Beer with ten million pints of Guinness produced every day. The city is also called “Dubh Linn,” which is an old Irish Gaelic phrase that means “Black Pool.” I can now understand why it is called that from all the dark, rich Guinness beer that flows from its taps on a daily basis. The streets are vibrant, buildings colorful, the restaurants, pubs, and food are amazing. I also fell in love with the soulful singsong music and sounds of the Irish dialect which is lovely. The city is rich in history with cultures colliding at a fast and furious pace. But once you step inside a pub, pull up a seat, grab a pint, you slow down and enjoy. Hop the pod with me and let’s fall in love with Dublin, Ireland and its food.
I wanted to find a pub that had a rich family history going back almost one-hundred and two years. Madigan's Pub located in the heart of Dublin’s city center at 19 O’Connell Street was my first stop. I was greeted with traditional Irish saying “Hello, welcome,” by the friendly and lively owner, William Rowe, who owns this pub. Madigan’s has six locations in Dublin, all family run by family members including Patrick, David, Lucinda just to name a few. The first restaurant opened in 1919 and has been handed down through generations not losing the culture and roots it was founded on.
The traditional Irish pub is exactly what you would expect and offered dark mahogany tables, a high bar, beer taps as far as the eye can see, stained glass, booths, tables with nooks and crannies. I settled in and got ready to eat. I expected Irish music in the background but was pleasantly surprised when I heard “Hungry Eyes” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I laughed out loud, but thought, how genius to have a song about having hungry eyes, because I was hungry for traditional Irish food.
Madigan’s serves a full Irish breakfast including a few staples items we do not have in the states. Traditional Irish Breakfast menus include an array of unlikely pairings but for the Irish, it works. A complete Irish breakfast includes two pieces of Irish cured bacon, two pork sausages, black (blood) & white pudding, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, a free-range egg, toast and tea or coffee. Other additions at other restaurants in Ireland include baked beans. So, if you are willing to go outside your United States food box, hop the pond and eat some blood sausage (pudding) with a side of baked beans. I can honestly say I did not have the urge to try these, but I did enjoy the pork loin, regular sausages, and potatoes.
For lunch, they have a wide variety of local favorites items you can try. Some include the and Irish salmon tasting plate which includes BBQ salmon, chili infused salmon & traditional smoked salmon served with basil cherry tomatoes, pickled cucumber and dill mayo. Or maybe you want to try the avocado toast which is lime & coriander crushed avocado with a soft poached free-range egg and crisp bacon on top.
For dinner, things start to gear up, so grab a cold beer on tap first, pick a comfy seat, and get ready to be amazed by the authentic flavors. Now for the best part. I loved getting the opportunity to sit with the owner and chat about the city, its heritage and how they put great pride in what they serve whether you are coming in for a quick pint with friends, or for a full meal experience. In Ireland, you walk into a pub and they treat you like they have known you for years. Their dinner menu is loaded with both traditional Irish and non-traditional food to choose from. I say when in Ireland, eat like the Irish. Some of the most popular options on the menu include of course, the Guinness cottage pie which is four cuts of ground prime Irish beef slow cooked with root vegetables & fresh garden peas, topped with golden mashed potatoes served with stout gravy. The Irish, as I have said, are known for their rich and flavorful stews.
Other authentic items to try are the loin of bacon & cabbage, which is Ballymaloe glazed loin of bacon, thyme infused savoy cabbage, buttered mashed potatoes and a rich creamy spring onion and parsley sauce. I tried this dish at another location in Ireland and was blown away by the savory bacon and cabbage combination. Another must-have is Jane Russell’s Bangers & Mash which is apple and mixed herb sausage with a pancetta crisp, roasted parsnip, lemon thyme and garlic jus. I have had this as well and love it, with the crispy crusted sausage. As you can see so far, Ireland serves very hearty, filling meals but they are not all heavy. Heart warming is a good way to say how the food makes you feel. You can taste the Irish love in every warm and filling bite.
For my tasting, I was so excited to hop the pond for their bestselling dish and an Irish staple, the traditional Irish battered fish & chips which is lightly coated fresh Haddock in an Irish batter infused with lemon & lime that has been fried to a crispy golden brown and served atop a heaping pile of chips “fries” and a side of minted mushy peas and homemade tartar sauce. The fish is delivered fresh daily, so no frozen anything here and this makes for, in my opinion, the freshest and cleanest tasting fish. The coating was flaky, crispy and had a bit of sweet and buttery taste from the beer they use in the batter. When you mix the crisp batter, clean fish, and pop of light pickle tartar sauce, it is a bite of incredible. That tasting was by far the best fish and chips I have ever eaten. I moved on to try the mushy minted peas and expected it to literally taste like canned mushy peas, but it was vibrant green from the peas being soaked overnight and baked to a semi-al dente bite and had a consistency of mashed avocadoes. It was slightly warm, clean, fragrant and had the flavors of fresh spring garden peas mixed with a back note of mint. I loved the fish and chips so much, I ended up eating them in another Irish town a few days later.
Overall, I was pleased with the food in Dublin and surrounding counties and cities. Make sure to try an Irish coffee, a pint of Guinness at any local bar you can find and soak in the charm and wonder of another culture. If you ever get the chance to take a trip to Ireland, make sure to stay a few nights in Dublin. Grab some comfy shoes, head out onto the lively streets, eat some great food and meet some great people. I loved my trip to Ireland and loved having the opportunity to share my international culinary adventure with you. Special thanks to Brenda and her staff at the local AAA store for helping me plan my Shades of Ireland tour. For more information on Madigan’s Pub in Dublin Ireland, visit their website https://www.madigansdublin.com/.