My first taste of Ireland was Irish stew - potatoes, onions and boneless lamb neck simmered in a large pot, until tender. It was economical and my mother served it at least once every two weeks. Or maybe it just a seemed that often. It tasted bland but the cooking smell that permeated the house did not.
Lyndey Milan's Taste of Ireland (Food Channel, Friday, 8.30pm) makes me realise how much Irish cooking has changed with the times. Lyndey, an authoritative Australian food writer and presenter, explores the rich culinary culture that has developed in Ireland, in much the same way as our own food history has evolved. (Although the menu from the ill-fated built in-Belfast Titanic that was recreated on the first programme was far from ordinary - squab in saffron vinaigrette and salmon poached in white wine is very trendy even today.)
A visit to Belfast's St George's Market is a must for anyone who wants to understand how diverse the food culture of Ireland has become - on offer is local seaweed, tapas, pheasant, organic vegetables, cheese, fresh fish, venison, pork, plus more.
As elsewhere in the world, young city chefs have embraced their heritage food and often work with familiar recipes recreating them in new ways.
A chef relative of mine cures salmon in Guinness by spreading the grated rind and juice of one lime and two lemons on a one kilogramme fillet of salmon, sprinkles it with 100g of salt, 50g each of sugar and chopped dill and two cups of Guinness. It is covered and cured in the refrigerator for 48 hours; he turns the fillet every 12 hours. Once cured, it is drained and sliced thinly on an angle. It's delicious as a starter or with a salad.
In the early part of the 20th century, Irish cheese had a rather poor reputation. But that has changed. In the 1970s, enterprising dairy farmers returned to artisan cheese-making and, today, Irish cheese is renowned throughout the world for its quality and distinctive flavours.
BEEF & GUINNESS FOUR-LEAF CLOVER PIE
My take on a traditional Irish pie.
1kg stewing steak
2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp canola oil
1 each: large onion, carrot, celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp each: water, tomato paste
1 cup each: beef stock, Guinness
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 sheets ready-rolled flaky puff pastry
1 small egg, lightly beaten
Set the oven to 180C.
Cut the steak into 2.5cm cubes. Toss in the flour, seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy pan suitable for the hob and oven. Saute the beef in batches, until browned. Set aside.
Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pan with a little extra oil, if required. Saute until the vegetables are coloured. Add the water, tomato paste, stock, Guinness and herbs. Simmer, stirring, to remove any pieces stuck to the pan base. Return the beef to the pan. Cover and cook in the oven for 90 minutes. Cool.
Place the beef mixture in a 25cm-diameter deep flan or pie dish. Brush the edges of the dish with the beaten egg. Fill with the beef mixture. Join two sheets of pastry to cover the top. Trim.
Cut a four-leaf clover from the remaining pastry sheet. Brush the top of the pie with egg, place the clover on top and brush with more egg. Make two slits in the top. Bake until golden - about 30 minutes. Serves 6.
IRISH POTATO SCONES
Sometimes called slim bread or potato cakes, potato scones are claimed by the Scots as well as the Irish.
500g potatoes, peeled
3 tbsp melted bacon fat or butter
Salt to taste
2 tbsp chopped chives, optional
2/3 cup flour, approximately
Boil the potatoes until soft. Drain, then mash together with the bacon fat or butter and salt. Add the chives if using. Cool, then mix in as much flour as the potatoes will absorb without becoming too dry. Roll into a 5mm thick oblong. Cut into 5-6cm rounds. Prick all over with a fork.
Heat the cast-iron frying pan or griddle on medium. Dust with a little flour. Cook the scones in batches for about four to five minutes each side, until browned.
Eat hot with maple syrup, honey or butter, or serve with bacon and eggs.
Any leftover scones can be wrapped in cling film and chilled. Reheat before serving. Makes about 25.
SALMON WITH GREEN PEPPERCORN SAUCE
Green peppercorn sauce: 3/4 cup lite sour cream
2 tbsp each: lemon juice, finely chopped chives
1 tbsp green peppercorns, rinsed
1 & 1/2 tsp each: Dijon-style mustard, finely grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp sugar
Salmon: 1 cup chardonnay
Salt and pepper to taste
4 salmon steaks, pin bones removed
Chopped chives or dill to garnish
Prepare the sauce by combining all the ingredients well. Add more sugar or lemon juice to taste. Stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for flavours to develop.
To cook the salmon, heat the chardonnay in a frying pan. Season. Add the salmon steaks and poach gently for five minutes. Remove with a slotted spatula to warmed serving plates.
Serve with the sauce and garnish. Serves 4.
BAILEYS SUNDAES WITH CARAMEL WHISKEY SAUCE
Poached pears are excellent served with the icecream and sauce.
1 litre good vanilla icecream
1/2 cup Baileys Irish Cream
Sauce: 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
6 tbsp Irish whiskey
1/4 cup cream
Garnish: 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Soften the icecream slightly and fold in the Baileys. Refreeze.
To make the sauce, bring the sugar and water to the boil in a one-litre heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil without stirring, until the syrup begins to turn golden (about five minutes).
Continue to boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until the syrup is a deep gold colour. This can also be achieved in the microwave. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the whiskey, cream and salt. The mixture will bubble up and the caramel will harden. Return the pan to the heat and simmer, stirring, until the caramel is dissolved and the sauce is smooth. Cool slightly.
Serve the sauce over scoops of icecream and sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Serves 6-8.