Rediscovering Ireland

08 Oct 2011

 

 I had forgotten. There is simply no better way to rekindle your love for the beauty of Ireland than to entertain visitors from abroad.  This week, we welcomed very special friends from the USA. After an eagerly anticipated farm tour, we each sat down to a warm bowl of Irish stew accompanied by chunky slices of freshly baked brown bread.  In between bites, we mapped out our very ambitious tour of the country. As you do.

The next morning, we got an early start for Kerry, an easy day trip from our neck of the woods. Weaving through the Killarney National Forest and around the Ring of Kerry, many oohs and aahs could be heard from our happy and awestruck passengers sitting beside us in the car. Despite witnessing this beautiful landscape on numerous occasions myself, I too could not resist marveling at the stunning reeks and rugged panoramas unfolding along the way…takes my breath away time and time again.

At one point during our Kerry expedition, the most beautiful grey fawn stepped out onto the road in front of the car. This is something I hadn’t experienced before on that route; luckily we were driving very slow and carefully so she was able to daintily sidestep to the other side of the road, no doubt looking for her mother. Later that evening, a fox with a very large fluffy red tail scurried across the road in the dark, a common sighting for us as well, but to our friends: novel.

Each time we have company from America we often hear comments like “ I love all of the privately owned shops lining the streets of towns and villages, they seem to really know their customers, you just don’t see that anymore back home”. There is also always an affinity towards ”all the wonderful real butcher shops and fishmongers” that aren’t the norm in America anymore. {though they appear to be attempting a comeback thankfully} Ireland always seems to take people back to a time and place where things were just a little more humble and a little less la-di-da.

Despite having sunshine for the first few days of the trip, the Irish rain made its obligatory appearance. Still, our guests were unbothered and delighted to keep touring. When we reached the top of the Cliffs of Moher {pictured above} on an impossibly wet and wild afternoon, it was declared that it was absolutely worth it. The rain and fog had only added to the dramatic and stunning spectacle, and the chill we felt was nothing a hot cup of tea couldn’t remedy.

Subtle differences were noted. Things like the fact that there are no electrical outlets in Irish bathrooms, potatoes of some shape or form are served with every entrée and that coffee is served after dessert not alongside your yummy last course {all of which were unusual to me in the early days as well} were observed, made sense of and hastily shrugged off.

We drove across the country and back again, discussing everything from how the Irish do funerals to matching car registrations with counties and what goodies we might find at Avoca if we have time to stop again. And, a line that was repeated more than once, “We could live here…..”

I know the feeling. 

To my mind, nothing beats a hot bowl of Irish Stew in the autumn/winter…here is my recipe, a hybrid of all the recipes and preparations I’ve enjoyed while living in and travelling around the country. I love adding parsnip and rosemary which is not customary, but adds more depth of flavour.

 Our Irish Stew

 3 tablespoons Olive Oil

1½ kg/ 3lb 5oz Lamb Shoulder Chops or Mutton Neck Chops

3 carrots cut on an angle or a 10 whole baby carrots

10 Baby Onions or 4 medium onions quartered

2 parsnips peeled and cut into quarters

8 potatoes peeled or 10 baby potatoes peeled

Sprigs of rosemary finely chopped

Salt & Pepper

600 ml chicken or lamb stock

Glass of dry white wine

Sprigs of thyme

1 tablespoon chervil (or parsley) chopped

1 tablespoon chives chopped

Preheat oven to 160c/325f

Cut the chops in half, do not remove bones as they add flavor.

Heat oil in large casserole until very hot, toss the meat in the

olive oil until browned, take out of the pan and then cook the

onions, parsnip, rosemary and carrots in the hot oil or fat for

a 2-3 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add the meat back into casserole.

Place potatoes into casserole (if using baby potatoes wait 30 minutes into cooking time before putting them into casserole).

Add the stock, wine and thyme and cover.

Simmer gently either in an oven at 160c/325f until meat is tender, about 1 ½-2 hours.

Remove from oven, pour off the cooking liquid and, degrease, season if it needed and pour back over the stew.

Add chopped herbs and serve.

Makes 6-8 generous bowls.

*To degrease the juices, if you do not have a maisgras, add a couple of ice cubes to the strained liquid – the fat should rise up to the top, spoon it off and discard.

Enjoy!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell

 

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