Monday, March 11, 2013

Irish Ploughman's Lunch

The Setting: 50 and cloudy in Nashville.

The Soundtrack: Various morning shows.

On the Stovetop:
Poached-egg English muffins, courtesy of my mom-in-law.

The Scenario: Looking for something to sustain you this St. Patrick's Day?

Try an Irish Ploughman's Lunch: a humble but hearty assortment of snackables, easy to assemble and munch on, for ploughmen, pub-lovers, and partygoers of all varieties.

The Ploughman, as it's called in passing, may have different components depending on where it's served and what's on hand, but there should always be a minimum of bread, spread, and protein.

Mine has seven components but could certainly be fleshed out with fresh fruits, veggies, and/or additional meats. Here's what I suggest:

Cider-Vinegar Soda Bread

Some folks assert that the bread in a ploughman's lunch simply must be of the crusty baguette variety. While that opinion may hold up in other parts of the UK, in my experience, Ireland calls for soda bread and lots of it. Be it white, brown, or dirty blonde, quick and yeast-less soda bread is butter's best friend, the perfect accompaniment to Irish stew, and an awesome, anytime addition to the Irish table.

This particular recipe gets a flavor boost from unfiltered apple-cider vinegar and is ready for your St. Patrick's Day spread in about an hour.

Homemade Cultured Butter with Celtic Sea Salt

Irish butter is incredible; I've said it time and again. But you can make some pretty incredible butter at home in less time than it takes to go to the store. To make festive shamrocks, or any shape for that matter, simply press fresh butter into molds and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to harden. Carefully un-mold when ready, and use a paring knife to tidy up the edges if needed.

If you'd prefer to work with store-bought butter but still want festive shapes, simply allow the butter to come to room temperature and beat it up for 30 seconds or so with an electric mixer before pressing it into molds. Make sure to use salted butter (I prefer Kerrygold), or add salt to the mixer (to taste) when beating unsalted butter. I prefer coarse, gray, Celtic sea salt for its flavor and texture, but any salt will work.

Whiskey-Apricot Chutney

Salty and sweet with a hint of hotness from red pepper flakes and warming notes from the whiskey, this savory apricot spread turns humble bread and cheese into an Irish canape. Ready in under an hour, the versatile condiment is a simple way to bring complex flavor to everything from sandwiches to sausages.

Aged Irish Cheddar

The older the better. I prefer cheddars aged at least a year, preferably longer, with the crunchy little tyrosine crystals that come with age. Older cheeses tend to be stronger in flavor and drier in texture. If you prefer a milder, creamier cheese, go with something young. Another exceptional and accessible Irish cheese is Kerrygold's Dubliner, a flavorful but approachable cheese, somewhat like a hybrid of cheddar, Parmesan, and Gruyere.

Refrigerator Pickles

Pickled onions tend to be more common in the UK than the pickled cucumbers we love in the US. These refrigerator pickles bring both onions and cucumbers to the party for the best of both sides of the pond. Easy to make and long-lasting in the fridge, they provide a pleasant vinegary accent to everything from the Irish Ploughman to American favorites like BBQ and fried chicken.

Hard-Boiled Eggs
Packed with protein and easy to come by, hard-boiled eggs are the perfect fuel for the Ploughman. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Generously salt the water and bring to a boil. When the water has reached a rapid boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let set for 16 minutes. Gently pour off the cooking water and run cold water over the hot eggs to cool down. Peel once cool.

Sausage Crisps
This is not particularly Irish (I used an Italian calabrese), but sausage crisps make a nice addition to any snack or platter. To make the crisps, thinly slice a fatty, cured sausage and arrange slices in a single layer on a cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or until the slices are all crisped up, like little meat chips. Perfect for dipping or simply for munching.

Not into the whole sausage-crisp concept? Any cured sausage or meat (even prosciutto or a Spanish ham) will do, no crisping required. For even more of an Irish flair, try smoked Atlantic salmon in addition to (or in place of) these meaty options.

Serve the Ploughman's Lunch with pints of stout, or your favorite Irish brew.


Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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