What’s the USP? The Irish Cookbook arrives with impeccable timing, following the country’s Michelin success last October. It now boasts three, two-star restaurants and 18 one-star establishments across the Republic and Northern Ireland. It’s an indication of how far the country’s food scene has evolved; a decade ago there were just seven starred restaurants in total.
Who’s the author? Jp McMahon is a Michelin-starred chef and culinary director of the EATGalway restaurant group that includes the one star Aniar. He is also the founder of the annual Food on the Edge culinary congress.
Is it good bedtime reading? There’s more than just recipes in this 400-plus page book with a scope that goes far beyond modern restaurant food, delving back to pre-Neolithic times in a scholarly introduction titled ‘A Little History of Food in Ireland’ that forms part of the book’s attempt to answer the question ‘What is Irish food?’.
Killer recipes? Organised into 15 chapters, McMahon comprehensively covers Ireland’s rich and diverse natural larder from the superlative shellfish (oyster pie; sea urchins with buttermilk and tarragon) to the plentiful wild game (grouse and poteen; venison and barley stew), freshwater fish (pike with gooseberries and sherry; perch baked in milk) and much else besides.
McMahon is keen to point out that it is more than the dishes that ‘emerged in the space created after the (potato) famine’ such as boxty potato pancake and traditional Irish stew, although both are included among the book’s 500 recipes, the former in its most austerely authentic form made with just lamb neck, onions, potatoes, thyme and parsley. The 80s are represented by crab with curry mayonnaise and pineapple while the contemporary Irish repertoire includes smoked eel porridge.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? A good fishmonger will be required for the likes of sea urchins, razor clams, wild salmon and smoked eel, and you’ll probably need to get your rod out and go and catch pike, perch and carp yourself. You might need an online supplier for seaweed and be up for a spot of foraging for things like nettles, wild garlic. There are however many recipes that won’t cause you any shopping bother at all.
What’s the faff factor? This is mostly home cooking rather than complex cheffy stuff and many of the recipes are short and to the point.
How often will I cook from the book? There’s a really good variety of dishes and lots that would work when you’re time poor mid-week.
What will I love? McMahon has included an index of Ireland’s wild plants, seaweed and fungi eaten by the country’s first settlers and which he sees as the future of Irish food. Nettles are rolled around cream cheese, made into a puree and soup and transformed into wine, while steamed asparagus is wrapped in sea lettuce and deep-fried rabbit legs are served with wild garlic mayonnaise.
Should I buy it? McMahon makes the sensible caveat that ‘no book is definitive’ and it is questionable how uniquely Irish some of the recipes such as steak and kidney pie and lamb hotpot actually are, but The Irish Cookbook is nevertheless an impressive achievement and one that will shed new light on a hitherto undervalued cuisine.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs/
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
The Irish Cookbook (Food Cook)