7 delicious recipes for our local favourites - from Irish stew to apple pie
As Irish stew appears on a list of the world’s top gastronomic experiences, Linda Stewart talks to five chefs and a bakery chairman about their love of traditional Northern Irish cuisine
The humble Irish stew has made it to the big time. The earthy Ulster dish has been listed as one of the top 50 gastronomic experiences in the world by The Ultimate Eatlist, published by the Lonely Planet.
So does that mean that Northern Irish cooking is now regarded as a cuisine in its own right? Here, six Northern Ireland chefs talk about the dishes they grew up with and how these have influenced their craft.
And now they are sharing their own recipes of great Ulster classics.
‘Of all UK regions we have the widest selection of breads’
Brian Irwin (64) is chairman of Irwin's Bakery in Portadown and is married to Moira with three children. He says:
When I was a child, one of the best things of all was toast done in front of the fire. It was put on a fork and it toasted very quickly until it was almost singed. As kids we absolutely loved it.
Another one that used to be made in the home was potato apple. It turned out something like a cake or pie and it's still a favourite in some parts.
Of all the regions in the UK, Northern Ireland has the widest selection of breads. We have a big range, from breads made from soda flour to products made on the hotplate and we continue the plain bread tradition with batch products. One product which is unique to Northern Ireland is veda bread which is a delicious treat for kids and also tastes good with a bit of cheese.
In its day it was a huge treat - there was not a lot of money about so there were no cakes, but here's a bread that delivers the same treat as cake but for a lot less money.
When the shipyard was in its heyday, you had thousands of men going to work each with their piece box. It was hard work so there were lots of plain bread sandwiches and at the end a Veda sandwich with a slice of pressed dates in the middle.
If you've just done six hours riveting the Titanic, you need your energy boost and what better than a Veda sandwich with pressed dates?
Soda bread was a big favourite. We had normal soda bread but also fruit soda made with white flour and sultanas. It's a bit of a speciality up here, although they make it in Cork as well and call it spotted dick."
‘Memories of family meal times drove me to become a chef’
Noel McMeel is executive chef at the five-star Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh. He says:
We Irish really know how to make great stews. Irish stew is traditionally made with lamb or mutton, but many Irish families would have used beef for special occasions, especially on St Patrick's Day, to create a delicious celebratory meal bursting with fork-tender vegetables and luscious Irish beef.
This is what I call real comfort food - and good all year round.
When we were wee children, our granny lived in the house with us, and she and my mum got along famously, sharing the kitchen and baking right alongside each other.
Frugal and sensible, the women saved biscuit tins and packed them full of home-baked treats to send home with my aunts and cousins.
Recreating the memories of my family's welcoming farmhouse kitchen and the warmth and laughter associated with mealtimes in our house is what drove me to become a chef.
This love of family gatherings round the table has stayed with me, as have my mother's lessons about celebrating what nature has given us."
The perfect white soda bread (by Robert Mosse)
What you'll need:
500g plain white flour
1 tsp (just above level) bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 medium tsp sea salt
50g yoghurt - preferably Killowen Farm's Natural Whole Yoghurt
1 large tsp honey - preferably Mileeven Pure Honey
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sieve the flour, bread soda and salt into a bowl. Use a whisk to thoroughly mix - this is key, it's critical to completely disperse the bread soda. In another bowl, whisk the yoghurt, egg, buttermilk and honey thoroughly until all are combined.
Make a well in the middle of your flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture. Starting from the centre working outwards, use your hand to gently mix all the ingredients together to form the dough.
Flour your work surface well and turn out your dough. Dust the top of the dough with more flour.
Shape into a round boule. Take your time shaping your bread and remember good bread doesn't always look perfect. Once you have formed your loaf, transfer onto a baking tray with plenty of space around the edges.
Press the loaf out slightly to flatten the top. Dust a serrated knife with flour and cut a cross on top. Use the full length of the knife drawing it back towards you, cutting down about half to two thirds of the way through the loaf.
Transfer to the oven straight away and bake for 40 minutes at 200°C. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.
Wheaten bread (by the Little Mill, Kilkenny)
What you'll need:
500g The Little Mill stoneground wholemeal flour
500g plain white flour (retail or culinary)
17g (1¼ teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
17g (2½ teaspoons) sea salt
20g (1 tablespoon) honey or sugar
Place flour in a bowl for mixing. Add the salt and sieve the baking soda onto the flours. Mix all the powders together to make sure the soda is fully dispersed.
Add the honey and the buttermilk mix using a spatula or by hand until a smooth lump-free soft dough is made (porridge-like consistency).
Split the dough evenly into two greased 2lb baking tins and pat down or spread gently to flat in the tin.
If liked, you can sprinkle some wheat or porridge flakes on top of the dough in the tins for decoration, but this is optional. Cut the dough down the centre the length of the tin with a knife. Dip the knife in a little vegetable oil to make cutting smoother.
Have the oven preheated to 175°C and place the two tins in the oven. Bake for 52-55 minutes or as required.
Turn on to a cooling wire after baking to allow to cool.
What you'll need:
1.5kg/3lb5oz stewing beef, cut into cubes
175g/6oz streaky bacon
3 tbsp olive oil
12 baby onions, peeled
3 small parsnips
3 carrots, cut into quarters or 12 baby carrots, scrubbed and left whole
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley
10 cloves of garlic, crushed and grated
425ml/15fl oz red wine
425ml/15fl oz chicken or beef stock
For the roux
Brown the beef and bacon in the olive oil in a hot casserole or heavy saucepan.
Remove the meat and toss in the onions, parsnips and carrots, one ingredient at a time, seasoning each time.
Place these back in the casserole, along with the herbs and garlic.
Cover with red wine and stock and simmer for one hour or until the meat and vegetables are cooked.
To make the roux, in a separate pan melt the butter, add the flour and cook for two minutes.
When the stew is cooked, remove the meat and vegetables.
Bring the remaining liquid to the boil and add one tbsp of roux.
Whisk the mixture until the roux is broken up and the juices have thickened, allowing it to come to the boil. Replace the meat and vegetables, and taste for seasoning.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with champ.
‘I loved my granda’s potato bread and still use his recipe’
Ian Orr (35) is chef patron and co-owner of Browns Restaurant Group & Ardtara Country House Hotel, Londonderry. He is married to Jennifer and they have two children, Oliver (9) and Emily (4).
Both my grandas were bakers. I loved it when we went to my granny's on Sunday and my granda had lots of stuff for us to try. I just had that sort of passion for it.
One of my favourites was my granda's potato bread and I use that recipe to this day. He always fried it in butter.
My other granda made little cakes and shortbreads and caramel squares and stuff like that.
Irish stew is a classic - it's famous all over the world. In America they have Irish stew and a pint of stout, but there are so many different recipes. The one in Derry uses mince balls, while my mother's would have had more potatoes, making it wetter - it's more of a soup stew.
The ingredients that we have here are unbelievable - we have great beef, great lamb, amazing seafood, lovely smoked eel from Lough Neagh, the Bramley apples, the list goes on.
I use this recipe all the time. The secret is to lightly cook the rhubarb before you get it in the oven.
The twist is the blackberries but you can exchange them for strawberries or raspberries or blueberries.
It's lovely comfort food coming into the autumn."
‘I grew up around baking and I’m very interested in pastry’
Donna Hughes (37) is resort head chef at the Galgorm Hotel. She is married to Darren and is expecting her first child. She says:
My grandmother was a very good baker and I grew up with a lot of home baking - soda bread, wheaten bread, pancakes, scones. She was very into her jam-making as well. She had blackcurrant bushes, she made rhubarb jam and she grew her own potatoes.
My mother was very good at making Irish stew, and mince and potatoes - very plain home cooked food.
We lived out in the country and were always running about. My father kept chickens and one of my favourite things was boiled eggs smashed up in a cup - I think everybody loves that.
I am very interested in the pastry side of the kitchen and I'm still very interested in making bread, cakes and jams, good homemade stuff. I have a very sweet tooth and that comes from my childhood.
This is the apple pie recipe we would have used at home. My grandmother made apple pies all year round, but she made more at Halloween.
We always got a 20p wrapped in greaseproof paper in the pie. But there were seven grandchildren and my grandmother didn't want anybody to miss out, so she would mark out the slices on the pastry and make sure that there was a 20p in each."
‘Mum always put barley in her soup and I would pick it out’
Danni Barry (32) recently left the Michelin-starred Deanes Eipic to open Clenaghan's restaurant in Aghalee. She says:
I grew up on a farm and there was always harvesting going on and men needing to be fed, so a lot of the food would have been very 'meat and two veg' and wholesome cooking. There were lots of stews and soups in winter and then in summer my mum used to roll up ham - that's how you knew it was summer.
There was always a big pot of stew on and I love getting home for a big pot of comforting stew.
If we are true to ourselves, we would say that Northern Irish cooking is rustic home cooking - but it's definitely changing.
Our fish and shellfish is among some of the best in the world. And I think to future generations, fish and shellfish are what people will recognise as Northern Irish cooking.
Mummy always had vegetable soup with the barley in it and I would have been picking out all the barley. I've put potatoes in this soup and just some herbs - but no barley!"
‘We take for granted so many of our indigenous creations’
Simon Dougan is managing director of the Yellow Door catering company and is married to Jilly. He says:
The reason I am a chef in the first place is that I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up and she did a lot of baking - wheaten bread, soda bread, sweet goods.
We're very strong in Northern Ireland for those kinds of goods like barmbrack, which is something that is well known around Co Armagh but probably not well known in Belfast.
We take for granted that wheaten bread is an Irish thing but it's actually a Northern Irish thing. I tried to sell wheaten in the south but they've never heard of it.
There are things like apple turnovers and potato apple bread that we take for granted - these things are indigenous to Northern Ireland, especially potato apple."
What you'll need:
For the pastry
50g caster sugar
350g plain flour
For the filling
1kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and sliced
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp flour
Preheat oven to 180C. Beat butter and sugar together until just mixed. Mix in one whole egg and one yolk (keep the white for a glaze later).
Work in the flour a bit at a time until the mixture starts to come together. Finish gathering pastry into a ball with your hands and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Mix the sugar, cinnamon and flour in a large bowl, add apples and coat well.
Cut off a third of the pastry and reserve for lid. Roll our remaining pastry and line 20cm pie dish. Pile apples into the pastry-lined dish. Brush a little water around the edges of the pastry. Roll out remaining pastry and cover apples. Press edges together and trim any excess pastry overhanging the dish. Make a small incision in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush the top with the egg white.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and apples are cooked.
Sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with whipped cream, custard or ice cream.
Easy rhubarb and blackberry crumble
What you'll need:
300g chopped rhubarb
150g caster sugar
1 orange, juice and zest
For the crumble
140g plain flour
100g caster sugar
Mix the rhubarb with sugar, lemon juice and zest, slowly heat in a pan for 10 minutes, add the blackberries and mix well, transfer to an ovenproof dish.
In a bowl, crumble the flour and butter together (using your fingers) until it's the texture of fine crumbs, add the sugar and chopped nuts, mix well.
Sprinkle the crumble topping over the rhubarb mix and bake in oven at 180C for 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream or custard.
What you'll need:
1 white onion, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek sliced
½ bulb fennel, sliced
1 small celeriac, diced
4 floury new season potatoes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
Small handful parsley stalks
Chopped spring onions, chives, mint and celery leaf
In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat.
Add in onion, garlic and all the vegetables except the potatoes and the bay leaf, thyme and stalks. Add two pints water and cook until carrots are slightly tender to the bite and it starts to smell fragrant. Add in potatoes and cook for 20 minutes until they start to break down.
Stir in spring onions, chives and mint, then season and serve.
Rhubarb and custard scones
What you'll need:
700g soda bread flour
125g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
75g creme patisserie (frozen on a tray)
75g cooked & frozen rhubarb
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Now add the frozen chunks of rhubarb and shards of frozen creme patisserie. Mix through and add the buttermilk, working quickly as the crème patisserie and rhubarb will soften quickly, making the mixture hard to work. Tip the mixture on to a floured surface and knead briefly to bring together. Roll out to about 5cm thick and cut with a medium scone cutter.
Egg wash each scone and bake in a preheated oven 200C for 20-25 minutes.