Let's at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef,
author & TV personality Kevin Dundon - the man that Tourism Ireland has
repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food - loves a lot of what happens in
the United States on March 17th.
"I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick's
Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint
it green for a day. That's terrific," Kevin said.
But then when it comes to what many Americans eat &
drink on St. Paddy's Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which
is then washed down with a mug of green beer) ... Well, that's where Dundon has
to draw the line.
Irish celebrity chef Kevin
Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and
a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by TomBurton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking
that stuff," Kevin insists. "And as for eating corned beef & cabbage ...
That's not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But
corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after
they'd come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these
Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends
& family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were
available to them at that time."
And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef &
cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint
Patrick's Day celebration. Because - according to Dundon - beef just wasn't all
that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.
To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle - while they
were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced -
were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the
fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why - back then -- these animals
were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything,
land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their
pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was
"Whereas pork ... Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which
is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef," Dundon continued.
So if that's what people actually ate back in the Old
Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly
associated with Saint Patrick's Day in the States.? That largely had to do with
where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.
"When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great
Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the
Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And
while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn't readily available, there
was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of
meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt - that's how it came to be
called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were
used in the curing process - and then placing all that in a pot of water with
other spices to soak for a few days."
And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage
... Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher
delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the
German community shopped in. Where - thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e.,
pickled cabbage) - there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.
"So when you get right down to it, it was the American
melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the
Irish-American cooking pot," Dundon continued. "Since they couldn't find or
didn't have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in
Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate
vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it's not actually
authentic Irish fare."
Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and
Restaurant at Disney Springs (which - FYI - Orlando Magazine voted as the
area's best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and
his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional
Irish fare and then contemporized it.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"Take - for example - what we serve here instead of corned
beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork - rather than beef - that was
the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of
bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon
potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that's made up of mashed potato
that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it," Kevin enthused. "This
heavenly ham - that's what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at
Raglan Road, Kevin's Heavenly Ham - also includes some savory cabbage with a
parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It's simple food. But
because of the basic ingredients - and that's the real secret of Irish cuisine.
That our ingredients are so strong - the flavors just pop off the plate."
Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the
Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the
ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to
those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.
"Take - for example - the fish we serve here. We only used
cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the
Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share," Kevin stated. "Not that
there's anything wrong with warm water fish. It's just that ... Well, it doesn't
have the same structure. It's a softer fish, which doesn't really fit the
parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you're going to serve authentic food, you
have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.
Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved
And if you're thinking of perhaps trying to serve an
authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef
& cabbage at your Saint Patrick's Day Feast ... Well, back in September of
last year, Mitchell Beazley published "The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside
America's Favorite Irish Pub." This 296-page hardcover not only includes the
recipe for Kevin's Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this
now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.
On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the
Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it's
worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St.
Patrick's Day Festival. This four day-long event - which includes Irish bands
and professional dancers - stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to
all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also
sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment's
four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were
imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just - As ucht Dé (That's "For
God's Sake" in Gaelic) - don't make the mistake of asking the bartender there
for a mug of green beer.
"Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,"
Dundon laughed. "I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017
Yeah well the Irish don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day all that much either. It's largely an Irish-American holiday so it makes sense to serve Irish-American foods.