The Full Irish

Irish Breakfast. There's much discussion of what items constitute the essential components of an Irish Fry. Eggs, bacon, sausage, white and black pudding certainly but after that there is debate about beans, mushrooms, tomatoes. 

 Eggs in the early morning light  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I will choose to use a description that I came upon one day about 12 years ago, while I was still living in Ireland. I was travelling down from the west of the country to Dublin, as I did quite often for my job. What was different on this occasion is that I was on the Galway road, the N6, a route I rarely took and so I didn't have access to my usual trusted stopping points. Somewhere between Mullingar and Dublin, Enfield perhaps, I decided to stop for breakfast. To be honest, I don't remember where it was. I just remember that I was starving...and when I came across a row of houses and a small sandwich board stuck out on the road, I didn't care where I was. I was stopping. It was one of those houses that you knew by the outside, you might find anyone or anything inside. I held my breath and stepped inside, the low roof dangling over my head and although the room was dark, which was disconcerting, I was pleased to see a few burly builder types inside. In Ireland, their very presence is taken as an indication of a good breakfast so I was immediately reassured. The lady of the house seemed to be an old woman. I say seemed because she didn't show herself.

 Eggs with Irish Bacon © 2014 Helena McMurdo

"Just sit down wherever you like", she yelled from behind the swinging door of her kitchen. "The only thing is, we've got no breakfast".

No breakfast? I was confused as I watched the burly builders dip their sausages and bacon into their eggs and stuff them in their mouths.

"Well", she continued, "the power's gone out and we've no 'lectricity. So I've got no toast. But I can make you bacon, eggs, sausage, pudding".  

"Isn't that breakfast?", I queried.  

Deadly serious, "Of course not, there's no toast!"

So there you have it. The essential component of an Irish Fry at least the breakfast version is toast.  Or Irish brown bread. Or both.

Because you don't make this as much as prepare it, it's essential to have the best quality ingredients you can. Something about the quality of ingredients in Ireland makes this dish extra special. They have long been at the forefront of the idea of eating local and producing food in a sustainable way. But I'm pleased to say that as knowledge of locally produced foods has grown here in Canada, I'm more easily able to find beautiful locally produced substitutes, done in the Irish style.

Knowing that St. Patrick's Day is on it's way, and deeming that a reasonable excuse,  I ventured to The British Butcher in North Vancouver, knowing that I would find the essential ingredients I required.

Their Irish bacon is from BC pork and dry cured in house. One of the things I find when buying this style of bacon here is that not every type crisps up nicely. Sometimes it has too much water and it just doesn't brown nicely. Not the case here. The flavour was great and it crisped up beautifully. Black and White Pudding are made here locally, also from BC pork. I love the white pudding particularly. I tend to cook it quite a lot so that the oats inside get crunchy. Delicious. I also enjoy the black pudding although I probably don't hanker it for the same way. Yes, it's got blood in it but if you've read this far, I'm guessing you already know that.

 Black and White Pudding © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The pro tip that I learned from the Irish is that as far as the bacon goes - better to grill than fry. Two reasons: one is less grease. The second is that you can make more all at once. In fact I often also put the sausages and the black and white pudding on the grill pan and under the broiler vs frying them in a pan. This is especially helpful when cooking for a crowd.

 Full Irish © 2014 Helena McMurdo

For me, an essential component of the Full Irish, is a roasted tomato. After all a vegetable or two couldn't hurt. Happy St. Patrick's Day! Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

Gregan's Castle

My current trip to Ireland is winding to an end. It's been great to spend some time with friends here and visit all the old places. But it's also been fantastic to find a few new ones as well. Gregan's Castle Hotel is located near Ballyvaughan in the Burren area of County Clare. The hotel itself is very comfortable, quiet and secluded, the kind of place you would go to to escape or hide. I've known of this place for years but never ever been there. Recently it seems they've brought their food to a whole new level and in 2010, chef Mickael Viljanen was named Bridgestone Chef of the Year. So as this was literally in our backyard from our base in Liscannor, Co. Clare, we set out to have a look. This is the view from the top of the Corkscrew hill at the edge of the Burren in County Clare. You can see the limestone area of the Burren in the distance. Corkscrew hill is not for the meek and if you are driving, don't take any chances - designated driver a must!

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The hotel has beautiful gardens and our table overlooking the gardens, and with views of the sea and the Burren was in a lovely light filled room.  Dinner started without delay as we quickly decided on the tasting menu option.  We chose 6 courses with paired wines but 9 and 12 course options are also available as well as an á la carte option.

Amuse Bouche:

These were simply darling, and were described to us as follows.

Pig Tail Bon Bon consisting of Black pudding and hazelnut mayo, Smoked Eel, Beetroot Meringue, Baked Potato Jelly, Rooster Liver Mousse. These were very beautifully presented and definitely set the scene for the type of cuisine we were going to enjoy. I think the meringue was the most interesting, it was light and melt in your mouth good and the slight salty taste of the fish combining with the sweetness of the beet. The jelly was very interesting and tasted of the skin of a baked potato but we all wondered if we would have been able to identify it had we not been told what it was.  The liver was great too, mostly from a textural point of view as the crisp it was served on was beautifully delicate and light.

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First Course: Foie Gras, honeycomb, pear and almond textures, pain d'épice for the ladies.

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The gentleman chose Raw milk with lovage, artichoke, rye and morteau sausage.

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Second Course: I chose skate with beetroot, fricassée of peas, lobster, girolles mushrooms and chicken oyster, caper shoot and raisin dressing, riesling velouté. The mushrooms were divine, the skate almost undercooked - but perfect - so beautiful and delicate.

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For my dining companions, scallop served with truffle, cauliflower, hazelnut, wood sorrell, smoked apple, leek and ash. (The leek was charred slightly). We all had a taste of the smoked apple which was amazing. Very bright.

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Third Course:

At this point in the meal, we'd been discussing Obama's recent visit to Ireland and how the Prime Minister of Ireland had got into trouble by using parts of Obama's Inauguration Speech without attributing it to the man himself. Then the pigeon arrived and to be honest, it looked terrifyingly rare. My friend exclaimed: Well, choose hope over fear! and it became our mantra.

The ladies: squab pigeon, new season carrots, date, vadouvan. This dish was served in two parts, with the main plate including the apparently rare breast, liver and heart of the pigeon. The breast was delicious and once I got over the sushi like look of it, I was pretty happy with the flavour.  We guessed it had probably been cooked sous vide so there was no colouring. The highlights were the beautiful new season carrots with flavours of anise and the beautiful mushrooms, which looked to me like enoki. This dish literally burst with flavour! I was not familiar with vadouvan, but it is sort of a mixture of caramelized onions, garlic and Indian flavours - I think cardamom, cumin and ginger were probably present. Delicious!

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The legs of the pigeon were served in a pan over burnt hay which imparted the smoky flavour to the meat. The smell was that first time you lit a bonfire smell. I enjoyed it although it alarmed some of the diners at the next table who started to wonder "what was burning?"

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The gentleman: veal sweetbread, madeira, peach, macadamia nut, fennel, liquorice. A very pretty presentation.

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Dessert:

Me: cherry, celery sorbet, goats milk, yogurt. No picture of this sadly. It was divine and had various textures and flavours. I always enjoy having lots to choose from so this was right up my alley. The highlight was the celery sorbet which was the perfect complement to the cherry flavour.

My companions: coffee deserts with caramel, green apple paired with champagne flutes of Murphy's stout.

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Petit Fours:

As if we hadn't had enough, out came the petit fours, with traditional macarons, jellies and some mini-magnums - baby ice creams.

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The entire meal was really bright and refreshing and despite the number of courses, I felt I had been able to enjoy and taste each one. It's a great special occasion place. The hotel and bar look lovely and I'm sure it would be an enjoyable stay as well if you wanted to make a weekend of it.

A very special thanks to O & J for treating me!

Breakfast in Ireland

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Here's the view that greeted me when I woke up from my electric blanket / jet lag induced coma. Yes god bless Ireland and electric blankets. They make everything all right.

I'm staying with a good friend in County Louth, just north of Dublin. This friend is also a talented chef, so the added bonus of our friendship is that I eat like a Queen and let's face it we all know how much I like that. Today, granola and fruit. Blueberries here are amazing. They are just juicy balls of flavour.

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