St. Patrick’s Day is coming right up! For us, this week generally means playing several musical gigs in a row, driving across a variety of high mountain passes in snowstorms, and drinking a lot of wine, but I realize that this isn’t most people’s idea of the holiday. However, to get in the mood in advance this year (and to provide photos for an article I was writing), I made up a batch of Irish soda bread and some beef stew to go with it. And damn if that wasn’t the best beef stew I have ever made! The bread wasn’t bad, either.
I wasn’t expecting much from the stew, so I didn’t really document it, but here’s how I built it: I started with a pan of bacon fat left over from breakfast. I seared some beef stew meat, then removed it from the pan and put in carrots, celery and sliced garlic. Once those had softened, I put the meat back in and added a quart of lamb stock from the freezer, salt and pepper, a fresh bay leaf and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. This simmered, covered, for over an hour and a half (whilst I made the soda bread), then I added rather a lot of diced potato and some water and let it all boil down for half an hour.
The resulting broth was not very thick, since I didn’t use flour, but it had a deep savoriness, and the potatoes had absorbed a great deal of flavor. The meat fell apart when poked with a spoon, but still had some good beefy taste. I had meant to sprinkle in some fresh parsley, but the stew didn’t really need anything to improve it.
The soda bread was a recipe more or less of my own devising, part whole wheat with buttermilk, baked in a cast iron Dutch oven. It was beautifully crunchy and was a fantastic vehicle for butter. We poured ourselves glasses of Guinness and sat down to a lovely pre-St. Paddy’s Day feast.
Afterwards, we sank deeply into a carb-induced coma. Mmmm.
Irish Soda Bread
- 3 cups all-purpose white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 400°. Thoroughly butter a cast iron pot with a lid.
Mix the dry ingredients together in bowl, then rub in the butter. Add the buttermilk all at once, stir briefly until just combined, then knead 8-12 strokes so the dough comes together but is not yet smooth. Pat the dough into the pan and cut a cross into the top. Cover.
Bake 30 minutes with the lid on, then remove and bake another 10-15, until the bread is crunchy and golden on top. Remove from the pan and let cool before cutting (if you can wait until it’s really cool then you’re a better man than I – I like it hot enough to melt butter, even if it makes the bread dense). Eat within two days or so.