St. Patrick’s Day deserves Irish food, and Irish food deserves Irish beer.
Not to be poured into a glass next to your plate, although that is a good idea, too. I’m thinking more of what is becoming a slow-moving but notable trend: cooking with beer.
Beer is an ideal ingredient in food: It has more flavor than water, pairs well with both meat and vegetables, and packs a lot of complexity in every drop. The only downside is that it tends to be bitter, but there are ways around that — often involving the judicious use of just a bit of sugar — if you want to use beer to bring out the fullest potential of your favorite dishes, savory and sweet.
Ireland, of course, is one of the great beer-brewing nations of the world. Cooking Irish food with Irish beer is — well, it’s magically delicious.
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When you think of Irish beer, you probably first think of Guinness; it may well be the single product most identified with the Emerald Isle. It has been around since 1759 (impressive, though Germany’s Weihenstephan has been made since 1040), and its taste, color and even the way it feels in the mouth are instantly recognized around the world.
Even the head — the foam that rises to the top when you pour it — is unique. It has such a strong structure that, theoretically, you can place a bottle cap on the top and it won’t sink into the glass. And if a bartender draws a shamrock into the head as he pours it, you should (again, theoretically) still be able to see it when you have finished your pint.
There are other stouts, and even other stouts from Ireland, but if you are going to be cooking with it, you might as well go with Guinness. It’s Guinness. It’s iconic. It’s special.
For my first St. Paddy’s Day dish, I made a classic: beef and Guinness stew. This stew is perhaps the ultimate expression of Guinness. It brings it to its pinnacle. It is Guinness’ finest moment.
As the beef slowly simmers in the beer, their flavors blend and meld. The beef takes on an unusual richness, while the Guinness loses its beery qualities. Very few other ingredients go into the pot — just a couple of onions, a carrot or two, a clove of garlic, thyme and tomato paste. The Guinness does most of the work to create the hearty flavor.
To sop up the leftover liquid, why not use homemade bread — especially bread that is made with Irish beer?
Lazy Irish beer bread is so ludicrously fast and easy that it does not deserve to be called bread.
You can make it, start to finish, in an hour, and that counts preheating your oven. And most enticing of all, it is made from just three ingredients: self-rising flour, sugar and Irish beer or any beer of your choosing. I chose Harp, because it is a lager with a smooth and fairly mild taste. I did not want a bread with too powerful a flavor.
Finally, I went back to Guinness for dessert. Guinness finds its way into a surprising number of desserts, including ice cream. But I couldn’t pass up a chance to make Mr. Guinness’ Cake.
Mr. Guinness’ Cake originated in an advertisement for Guinness some years ago. According to Darina Allen, author of Irish Traditional Cooking, the ad read, “Over the past couple of centuries, our beer has acquired a modest reputation, but our cake is still little known. This seems a pity, for one enthusiast has described it as like eating dreams.”
According to the recipe, the cake was supposed to sit untouched for a week before being eaten. Fruitcakes are often meant to age for a week, a month or even a year to allow the best possible flavor to develop and for the alcohol to suffuse the entire cake. This one was gobbled up the morning after it was baked.
Keeping it a week longer would only make it taste more like Guinness.
Beef and Guinness stew
Makes 6 to 8 servings
▪ 2 pounds lean stewing beef
▪ 3 tablespoons oil, divided
▪ 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
▪ Salt and pepper
▪ Cayenne pepper
▪ 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
▪ 1 large garlic clove, crushed (optional)
▪ 2 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
▪ 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) Guinness
▪ 3/4 cup carrots, cut into chunks
▪ Sprig of thyme
▪ Chopped parsley
1. Trim the meat of any fat or gristle; cut into 2-inch cubes and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil.
2. In a large bowl, season the flour with salt, pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Toss the meat in this mixture.
3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet on high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add onions, crushed garlic and tomato paste to the pan. Cover, and cook gently for about 5 minutes.
4. Transfer pan contents to a Dutch oven, and pour some of the Guinness into the skillet. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the pan. Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add carrots and thyme. Stir, taste and add a little more salt if necessary.
5. Cover and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven at 300 degrees. Remove thyme, taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8: 235 calories, 10 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 26 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 1 gram fiber, 115 milligrams sodium, 30 milligrams calcium, 38 percent of calories from fat.
— from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen (Kyle Books, $35)
Lazy Irish beer bread
Makes 8 to 10 servings
▪ 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour (see note)
▪ 12 ounces beer, room temperature (we used Harp)
▪ 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat inside of a loaf pan with butter or nonstick spray.
2. Combine all ingredients only until well-mixed. Do not use a beater or mixer.
3. Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake 45 minutes.
Note: This recipe will only work with self-rising flour. Do not use all-purpose flour.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 10: 135 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, 3 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 1 gram fiber, 375 milligrams sodium, 105 milligrams calcium, 0 percent of calories from fat.
Mr. Guinness’ Cake
Makes 8 to 12 servings
▪ 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
▪ 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
▪ 4 eggs, lightly beaten
▪ 2 cups all-purpose flour
▪ 2 level teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
▪ 1 2/3 cups raisins
▪ 1 2/3 cups golden raisins
▪ 2/3 cup mixed candied fruit (see note)
▪ 3/4 to 1 cup chopped walnuts
▪ 8 to 12 tablespoons Guinness, divided
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 7-inch (or 8-inch or 9-inch) round cake pan. Cut out a round piece of parchment paper, place in the bottom and grease it, too.
2. Cream butter and sugar together until light. Gradually beat in eggs. Sift flour and pumpkin pie spice together, then fold into the mixture. Add raisins, golden raisins, candied fruit and walnuts. Stir 4 tablespoons of Guinness into the mixture and mix to a soft dropping consistency.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking 1 1/2 hours more. Let cool.
4. Remove from cake pan. Turn cake over and prick base all over with a skewer. Spoon remaining 4 to 8 tablespoons Guinness over the base of the cake. Wrap in waxed paper and keep cake for 1 week before eating.
Note: Candied fruit is what goes inside fruitcakes. It can be hard to find when it is not the holiday season. You can substitute dried cherries or dried blueberries, dried pineapple (which is what we used), chopped dates, dried cranberries, or more raisins.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 12: 575 calories, 24 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 105 milligrams cholesterol, 7 grams protein, 86 grams carbohydrates, 60 grams sugar, 4 grams fiber, 55 milligrams sodium, 70 milligrams calcium, 38 percent of calories from fat.
— from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen (Kyle Books, $35)