Entertaining | A St Patrick's Day supper


A St Patrick's Day supper

It’s a tribute to the sheer joie-de-vivre of the Irish that we regard St Patrick’s Day with much more enthusiasm than St George’s, St Andrew’s or St David’s Days (the patron saints for England, Scotland and Wales for those of you who aren’t into your saints). So your friends are going to be more than pleased to be invited to celebrate it with you.

This is another of my low maintenance menus with only the main course - an adaptation of the famous American Ham and Coke - needing last minute attention. If anyone in the party doesn’t like oysters (check beforehand) you can serve them some Irish smoked salmon instead. (Ummera and Frank Hederman are top smokers.)

Freshly shucked oysters and soda bread

Don't open the oysters too far in advance of eating them. In fact you could wait until your guests arrive - it'll give the men something to do!

Serves 6

36 oysters
Lemons, shallot vinegar and Tabasco to taste.

To open the oysters, protect your hand with a teatowel. Hold each oyster with the pointed end towards you and the flatter side uppermost. Find a point where the two sides of the shell join where you can insert the point of the knife and wiggle the blade around till you’ve got it firmly in. Work the blade round the edge of the oyster until the two sides come apart. Carefully holding the lower part of the shell so the juices don’t spill out, work away the flesh from the sides leaving the oyster meat in the base of the shell. Place the shell carefully on a bed of crushed ice or rock salt so that it can’t rock about. Repeat until all the oysters are open. Personally I would eat them without anything but soda bread and a cool glass of Guinness but you can lay on lemon wedges, shallot vinegar (mix 100ml red wine vinegar with 2-3 very finely chopped shallots) and Tabasco for those that want them

Irish soda bread

If you’ve never made bread in your life you could make Irish soda bread. It requires no kneading or rising time - you can make it from start to finish inside an hour. Everyone’s version differs slightly. This is based on the recipe the marvellous

Dan Lepard gives in Baking with Passion.

284 ml carton buttermilk or very low fat bio yoghurt
1 level tbsp black treacle
225g (8 oz) self raising flour
225g (8 oz) plain wholemeal flour (not bread flour) + extra for dusting
1 tbsp wheatgerm
1/2 level tsp cream of tartar
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 rounded tsp fine seasalt

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.
Warm the buttermilk very gently in a pan with the treacle until the treacle melts, stir well then take it off the heat. Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the milk and treacle mixture and mix with a wooden spoon then pull the mixture together with your hands, trickling in a little water as needed. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
Shape the dough into a ball about 18 cm (7 in) wide and place on a floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the centre of the loaf, dust with a little more flour and bake for about 35-40 minutes until the bread is well browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Transfer onto a wire rack, cover with a clean teatowel to stop the crust getting too hard and cool for about 20-30 minutes. Serve while still warm with unsalted butter.

Coke and Guinness-glazed ham with Colcannon

It occurred to me that if you could cook ham in Coca Cola it might be even (itals) better cooked in Coke and stout. And it is!

Serves 4

About 1.5kg (3lb 5 oz) smoked gammon or bacon joint
2 x 330ml cans Guinness or Murphy’s stout
2 x 330ml cans Coca Cola
1 onion, peeled and halved
3 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
1 1/2 tsp mustard powder
6-8 cloves

Soak the gammon in cold water for several hours or overnight. Put the joint in a deep saucepan that fits it snugly and pour in the Guinness and Coke which should just about cover the ham. Add a little water if it doesn’t. Add the onion and bring the liquid gradually to the boil. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours, turning the joint once during the cooking period and topping up with boiling water as necessary. (The timing will depend how slowly you manage to keep the liquid simmering. If it barely trembles - as it should - go for the longer cooking time.) Remove the joint from the pan and reserve the stock (it makes a fantastic base for a black bean soup!). When the joint is cool enough to handle cut away any rind and score the fat with a diamond pattern. Preheat the oven to 225°C/425°F/Gas 8. Mix the sugar and mustard powder together, breaking down any lumps and rub into the fat. Stud the intersections between the diamonds with the cloves. Put the gammon joint on a sheet of foil and wrap the foil around the meat leaving the fat exposed. Put the joint in a roasting dish or tin and add a cup of the cooking liquid to the dish to stop the glaze burning. Roast the joint for 15 minutes until the fat is nicely caramelised. Carve the meat into thick slices and spoon a spoonful of the juices in the roasting tin over each portion. Serve with colcannon (below)


The classic Irish mix of cabbage and mashed potato.

Serves 6

900g (2lb) King Edwards or other good boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into even sized pieces
250g (9oz) of sliced cabbage
50g (2 oz) butter at room temperature
75ml (3 fl oz) warm milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth, season with salt then cook for 20-25 minutes until done. Drain the potatoes thoroughly then return to the pan. Meanwhile toss the greens for 2-3 minutes in a little boiling, salted water until just cooked. Drain, return to the pan and season with salt, pepper and 10g of the butter. Mash
the potatoes thoroughly till smooth then beat in the remaining butter and warm milk. Season with salt and pepper then mix in the greens.

Bailey’s pannacotta

This has to be one of the easiest desserts in the world. You’re simply making a Bailey’s-flavoured milk - or, rather, cream jelly. You can serve it with almost any kind of fruit. Stewed or baked rhubarb or a plum compote would be the most seasonal or, for a slightly more spring-like but arguably less Irish accompaniment, you could serve it with fresh berries such as strawberries or raspberries (slightly sweetened at this time of year) or fresh mango. Or, forget the fruit, and simply serve it on its own with an espresso and a dash of Irish whiskey as a sort of deconstructed Irish coffee. (A few biscotti would be nice too) I’ve given quantities for up to 8 as someone is bound to want seconds.

Serves 6-8

10g leaf gelatine (about 6 leaves)
2 x 284ml cartons of whipping cream
150ml (1/4 pint) Bailey’s or other Irish cream liqueur
4 tbsp full cream (i.e. not semi-skimmed) milk
2 tbsp unrefined caster sugar
A little flavourless oil

You will need 6-8 small dariole moulds or ramekin dishes
Soak the gelatine in cold water. Tip the milk into a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the Bailey’s and milk and bring slowly to just below boiling point. Take off the heat and stir in the sugar and then the soaked gelatine. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool. Very lightly grease the dariole moulds or ramekin dishes with kitchen paper rubbed in a little flavourless oil. Skim off any skin that has formed on the surface of the cream then pour into the moulds. Wrap each mould or dish with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. To turn out the pannacottas dip the base of each mould in hot water for a few seconds then invert the mould onto a dessert plate. Give it a shake and it should pop out easily.

* The amount of gelatine recommended will vary from packet to packet but if you follow the pack instructions use about 10-15% less than the recommended amount. You want your pannacotta to have a distinct wobble!

Irish cheeses

The Irish make the most wonderful cheeses so try and get hold of a selection if you’re serving a cheeseboard (In London Neal’s Yard Dairy is the best source) My personal favourites are Cashel Blue, Durrus and Ardrahan (all strong so don’t expect them to go marvellously with whatever wine you choose. An aged tawny port might be a better option.)

What to drink:

Well, Guinness is the obvious answer with the oysters but if you don’t like Guinness you could serve a Chablis or a Muscadet. You could carry on drinking Guinness through the main course if you’re a real enthusiast but most of your guests I suspect would rather have a red by this stage. I’d pick a fruity Shiraz. I’m not sure the dessert really needs an accompanying drink but if you’re serving fruit with it you could serve a sweet muscat such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. Or, as I suggest in the recipe, an espresso with a drop of Irish whiskey in it!


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