The Best Traditional Irish Food to Make This St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, inspiring visions of corned beef and potatoes in foodies’ heads all over the globe. But did you know that corned beef isn’t even traditionally Irish? Celebrate with authentic dishes this year that actually hail from Ireland, from fluffy colcannon to crispy boxty to soul-warming lamb stew. Here are 20 of our favorite recipes to try.
The first food that likely comes to mind when you think of Ireland is potatoes—with good reason. The potato was a staple crop in Ireland by the 18th century, thanks to it being nutritious, calorie-dense and durable against the elements. By the 1840s, nearly half the Irish population’s diet was exclusively dependent on potatoes. So, it’s no surprise that colcannon—Irish mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale—is such a common dish. We love this take for the tangy additions of sour cream and cream cheese in place of milk or cream.
2. Irish Soda Bread
There are plenty of reasons to love soda bread, but the top two are that it doesn’t need to be kneaded and it doesn’t require yeast. This is all thanks to baking soda (called bread soda in Ireland), which leavens the bread on its own. Its invention in the early 19th century made it possible for those without an oven to make bread; they’d bake it in a cast-iron pot over a fire. Traditional soda bread was made with nothing but whole-meal flour (which results in a brown loaf, not white), baking soda, buttermilk and salt. Carraway and raisins, which are common additions nowadays, were luxury ingredients at the time that they likely became popularized by Irish immigrants in America. No matter how you bake yours, be sure to slather it in butter.
You and potato latkes go way back, but have you heard of this Irish potato pancake? It’s made of mashed and grated potatoes, then fried in butter until crisp and golden brown, though it can also be baked in a pan. Also called Irish potato cakes, boxty hails from the northern midlands of Ireland and likely got its name from the Irish words for “poor house bread” (arán bocht tí) or “bakehouse” (bácús). Serve them as a side instead of mashed or boiled spuds.
4. Irish Stew
Hellooooo, comfort food. Irish stew was originally a stew of vegetables and lamb or mutton, (unlike brown stew, which is made with cubed beef). Onions and potatoes are musts, while carrots are popular in southern Ireland. Turnips can also be thrown in the mix. If you’ve had Irish stew before, odds are it was thick and creamy, thanks to the addition of mashed potatoes or flour, but it can also be prepared as a broth. We love this version because it both honors the O.G. by calling for lamb shoulder and riffs on it with the addition of thyme and fresh tarragon.
5. Black Pudding (Blood Sausage)
Breakfast is a big deal in Ireland, and it’s incomplete without this sausage at the table. Black pudding is made from pork meat, fat and blood, plus fillers like oatmeal or bread. (Irish white pudding is the same, minus the blood.) While blood sausage traditionally comes in casings, this recipe is made right in a loaf pan. If you’re not too squeamish, head to your local butcher to get your hands on some fresh pig’s blood for this recipe.
Back in the day, Catholics couldn’t to eat meat on Fridays. So, coddle—a layered, slowly braised dish of pork sausage, potatoes, onion and rashers (aka Irish-style back bacon)—was eaten on Thursdays in Ireland. The dish allowed families to use up all their leftover meat from the week just in time to fast. Coddle is most commonly associated with Dublin, Ireland’s capital. Prepare it in a large pot with a lid (so the sausages on top can steam) and serve it with bread.
7. Boiled Cabbage
Like potatoes, cabbage is one of Ireland’s most beloved crops due to its cost efficiency. Though you’ve likely noshed on it alongside a few slabs of corned beef, cabbage was traditionally boiled in one pot with Irish bacon, then shredded and served with butter. While we’re all for authenticity, might we suggest making these roasted cabbage steaks instead? They’re buttery, tender and dusted with salt, pepper and caraway seeds.
Did you know Halloween has its roots in Ireland? It started with the ancient Celtic harvest celebration Samhain, which was marked by feasts and the opening of ancient burial mounds, which were believed to be passageways to the other side. (P.S., the first jack-o’-lanterns were carved out of turnips and potatoes!). Barmbrack—a spiced bread peppered with dried fruit and stuffed with small objects believed to be omens for those who found them—was traditionally made for Samhain celebrations. Common items found in the bread include a ring, which symbolizes marriage, and a coin, which signals wealth. Whether you prepare your barmbrack with a surprise inside or not, consider soaking the dried fruit in whiskey or cold tea overnight before adding it to the dough, so it’s plump and moist.
Speaking of Samhain, this mashed potato dish was a must at nighttime celebrations. Champ is very similar to colcannon, except it’s made with chopped scallions instead of kale or cabbage. In many parts of Ireland, champ would be offered to fairies and spirits during Samhain, served with a spoon under a shrub to appease them, or left out in the home for ancestors who had passed on. It’s particularly popular in the province of Ulster, while colcannon is more common in the three other provinces.
10. Shepherd’s Pie
Few dishes are as warm and cozy as this baked meat pie topped with a thick, fluffy layer of mashed potatoes. It’s on the menu at every Irish-American pub, but its roots are actually British, as it originated in northern England and Scottish sheep country. It’s believed that housewives invented shepherd’s pie as a way to use up leftovers. The dish is traditionally made with diced or minced lamb, though many Americanized versions call on ground beef instead (which is technically cottage pie). The meat is simmered in brown gravy with onions, carrots and sometimes celery and peas. Our take on shepherd’s pie stars Guinness beef stew and tangy goat cheese mashed potatoes.
The seafood industry is a cornerstone of Ireland’s economy, employing nearly 15,000 people around the country’s coastlines. In addition to quality fish, shellfish can be found all over the coast and mainland. Think prawns, cockles, mussels, clams and beyond. Oysters from the west coast, which pop up at the end of summer, are arguably the most bragworthy catch. In fact, they’re the main event at the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, oysters were cheap and commonplace. As they got scarcer over the years, they became an expensive delicacy. Serve them with a bitter, roast-y Irish stout (like a Guinness) to counter their salty, briny flavor, just as it was done in pubs and taverns of yore.
12. Irish Seafood Chowder
Like shellfish, fish chowder and stew are both super popular in Ireland. Most feature cream (some also include wine) and an array of fish and shellfish, like prawns, clams, scallops, haddock and pollock. Many also include some sort of vegetables, like leeks, potatoes and onions. This probably goes without saying, but it’s most delicious served with soda bread or brown bread slathered in butter.
13. Irish Fry-Up (Full Irish Breakfast)
Most commonly associated with Ulster, the Irish fry-up is a hearty breakfast consisting of soda bread, fadge (a small skillet potato cake), fried eggs, rashers, sausages and black or white pudding, along with baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms and a cup of coffee or tea. It was first invented as a way to fuel up for a day of heavy-duty farm work. Though it’s similar to an English breakfast, the Irish fry-up is different for two main reasons: it never includes fried potatoes, and the black or white pudding is an absolute must.
14. Corned Beef and Cabbage
It doesn’t get more authentic than this come St. Patty’s Day, right? Think again. Corned beef is not traditionally Irish. Irish bacon and cabbage is a much more authentic pairing, as beef wasn’t even a big part of the common diet in Gaelic Ireland; cows were used for milk and dairy products instead and consequently became a sacred symbol of wealth, so they were only killed for meat when they were too old to work the fields or make milk. The British actually invented corned beef in the 17th century, naming it that due to the corn kernel-sized salt crystals used to cure the meat. After the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667, it was illegal to sell Irish cattle in England, which hurt Irish cattle farmers. But it was Ireland’s low salt tax that eventually sparked an association with quality corned beef.
With a surplus of both beef and salt, Ireland exported corned beef to France and the U.S., despite not being able to afford it themselves. By the end of the 18th century, the first U.S. colonies were producing their own corned beef, but corned beef as we know it today (which is essentially Jewish corned beef cooked with cabbage and potatoes, a result of Irish immigrants in New York City buying their meat from kosher butchers almost exclusively) is very different from the original. Nevertheless, it’s the quintessential St. Patrick’s Day entrée on this side of the Atlantic nowadays, so feel free to indulge anyway.
15. Irish Fish Pie
Similar to shepherd’s pie, fish pie is a creamy mix of poached white fish cooked in white sauce or cheddar cheese sauce and topped with mashed potatoes. Also called fisherman’s pie, this dish dates back all the way to 12th-century England, but it’s permanently made its way into the Irish foodscape since then. Fish options include haddock, ling, perch, pike or cod, but you can also throw in scallops, shrimp or other shellfish if you fancy.
16. Chip Butty
Behold, the most ingenious sandwich of all time. This British delicacy can be found in casual eateries all over Ireland, and it’s no mystery why. It’s literally a French fry sandwich that’s as simple as bread, (slices or a roll, sometimes buttered), hot chips and condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, malt vinegar or brown sauce. It’s a working-class meal that’s understandably timeless.
17. Irish Apple Cake
Apples, a staple of the Irish countryside, had a lot of significance during harvest season and Samhain. Not only would revelers bob for apples and play snap apple (a game where party guests try to take a bite of an apple dangling by a string), but there was also a divination game that required someone to carefully peel an apple to get one long piece of skin. They’d toss the skin over their shoulder and whatever letter the skin formed on the ground was meant to predict the first initial of their future spouse. Irish apple cake was traditionally steamed in a pot over an open fire, but now it’s typically baked in a cast-iron skillet. This decadent version is topped with whiskey crème anglaise.
We’ll give credit where credit is due. This biscuit made from white sugar, butter and flour was invented by the Scottish. But the original was a twice-baked medieval biscuit bread made with yeast. Over time, the yeast was swapped for butter, an Irish and British staple, and that’s how shortbread as we know it today came to be. Shortbread, named for both “shortening” and its crumbly texture (“short” used to mean the opposite of long or stretchy), is free of leavening—even baking powder or soda. Over time, it’s become sweeter as bakers have adjusted the proportions and added more sugar to the mix.
19. Irish Bread Pudding
Odds are you’ve had some sort of bread pudding before, but Irish bread pudding is a treat all its own. Made with stale bread, dairy, eggs and some sort of fat, Irish and English bread pudding also traditionally includes raisins and currants (though they’re not technically required) and spiced cream. We like this real-deal recipe that pulls out all the stops, from the cinnamon-raisin bread to the crystallized ginger to the dash of brandy.
20. Irish Coffee
Irish coffee isn’t meant to be excessively sweet or boozy. This cocktail is hot drip coffee, Irish whiskey (like Jameson) and sugar topped with cream. (Sorry, Baileys.) You can also start with an Americano (espresso and hot water) instead of drip coffee if you have an espresso machine. To make it the *right* way, pour the whiskey and at least a teaspoon of sugar into black coffee and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then, gently pour the cream over the back of a spoon so it floats on top of the cocktail. This Dublin-style version uses dark brown sugar and calls for a quick flambé, but we won’t tell if you just top it off with whipped cream and call it a day.