When you think of St. Patrick’s Day, a specific set of Irish food probably springs to mind: Corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, and Irish soda bread are all staples of the March 17 celebration. The holiday — which, in America, is typically embraced as a day of camaraderie and imbibing — has a long and storied history, beginning in 1631 as a tribute to Ireland’s Patron Saint. It became more widely recognized in the 18th century, and lively festivities surrounding the occasion (e.g. people dressing in green and Chicago dyeing its river) continue to this day. But what if you desperately want to channel the original, authentic spirit of Ireland in your food this year? We asked an Irish celebrity chef about the “real” St. Patrick’s Day meals, plus what his favorite Irish dish is. Keep reading to learn how to make it.
What are the real St. Patrick’s Day foods?
As it turns out, we may need to rethink some of the foods we typically associate with St. Patrick’s Day. Stuart O’Keeffe, an Irish celebrity chef, cookbook author, and Nutrisystem ambassador, says that many of the foods Americans eat on St. Patrick’s Day aren’t actually eaten in Ireland on the holiday at all. “While corned beef and cabbage is often associated with St. Patrick’s Day in the United States, it is not a traditional Irish dish,” he explains.
While Irish food has earned an undeserved reputation as bland, Chef Stuart assures us that that, in fact, the opposite is true. “Traditional Irish cuisine may not be as spicy or heavily seasoned as some other cuisines, but it is far from unappetizing,” he emphasizes. He says that many Irish dishes rely on natural ingredients, like local meats and fresh vegetables, which gives them a distinctive flavor and wholesome nutritional value. He also acknowledges that while boiled meat and potatoes were often eaten by Irish immigrants in the US, “it is not a representative dish of traditional Irish cuisine.”
The primary Irish food traditions, according to Chef Stuart, are “hearty, straightforward, and delicious dishes,” with key ingredients including potatoes, dairy products such as butter, cheese, and milk, and seafood. He says that due to Ireland’s cool climate, stews and soups are culinary essentials. And while corned beef and cabbage may not be the signature Irish meal Americans think it is, Chef Stuart notes another classic St. Patrick’s Day food that’s found in America is also central to Ireland: “No discussion of Irish cuisine would be complete without mentioning Irish soda bread,” he says, calling it “a beloved staple” found in every Ireland household.
What is the significance of Irish stew?
One of the most common St. Patrick’s Day meals in Chef Stuart’s homeland is Irish stew. This filling dish is made from lamb, potatoes, and Guinness (that’s right — you can drink Guinness and eat it), and Chef Stuart has fond memories of the dish from his youth. “Growing up in Ireland, we’d enjoy this meal at least once a week,” he recalls. “I remember arriving home on my bike during my lunch break, shivering in the freezing cold, and eagerly digging into a steaming bowl of this hearty stew.”
Irish stew is a powerful comfort food — and Chef Stuart says that it’s the type of dish every family will have their own version of, inspiring much “friendly competition” over whose stew reigns supreme. Like all the best regional dishes, it represents a sense of history and tradition. The stew is believed to have originated back in the early 19th century out of necessity, making a filling meal from simple and available ingredients. Now, Chef Stuart sees Irish stew as “a symbol of the resourcefulness and resilience of the Irish people,” and making it is a way of reconnecting with his roots.
How does Chef Stuart make Irish stew?
Chef Stuart shared his signature recipe for Irish stew with us — so follow along below to prepare a dish that’s sure to give your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a credible Irish flavor. You can also watch Chef Stuart make the stew himself in a video below.
Chef Stu’s Irish Stew
- 3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut in 2-inch chunks
- Vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 4 onions, cut into wedges
- 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups beef stock
- 1 cup Guinness
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 large russet potatoes, peeled, halved, and cut into 1 ½-inch slices
- For garnish: chopped fresh parsley and chives
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pat lamb dry and season with salt and pepper. Toss in flour to coat. Put 1 tablespoon oil in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown meat on all sides, working in batches. Set aside.
- Add onions and carrots to pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook vegetables, stirring, until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste for 30 seconds.
- Return meat, along with beef stock, Guinness, thyme, and bay leaf, to pot.
- Place potato slices on top of ingredients in pot. (Potatoes do not need to be submerged.) Season potatoes, cover, and place in oven 60 to 80 minutes. Watch closely.
- Ladle stew into large bowls for serving. Sprinkle with parsley and chives.
“Even now, as an adult, Irish stew remains one of my go-to comfort dishes that instantly transports me back to my childhood,” Chef Stuart concludes. So, while you may not have grown up with this particular dish, it’s a terrific way to explore your Irish heritage; and even if you don’t have a drop of Irish luck in you, the stew will still provide you with a cozy, hearty meal that transcends cultural boundaries.
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