St Patrick’s Day – a Catholic feast day — is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of Patrick’s death. Usually occurring in the middle of Lent, when fasting was observed, the feast day gave Irish Catholics a welcome break from the Lenten fast, even if only for a day. Not only could they enjoy meat and eggs on St Patrick’s Day, but they could also consume alcohol and wet the Saint’s head with one drink.
What Foods do we use to Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland?
All across Ireland, people broke the fast and enjoyed meals of pork and bacon with potatoes and garden vegetables, and toasted St Pat with a celebratory beverage called the Pota Phádraig or St Patrick’s Pot. The custom — called drowning the shamrock — involves floating a shamrock leaf in a whiskey shot before drinking.
So, if you are looking to feast like the Irish on March 17, here’s the Good Food Ireland® guide to the traditional foods and drinks we use to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
Bacon and Cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage is probably the dish that most non-Irish people associate with St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. However, that particular dish traces its roots back to the early days of Irish immigrants in America, not actually Ireland itself.
Traditionally, Irish bacon was the meat most often eaten in Ireland, mainly because it was cheap. Small rural households would keep two pigs — one for the table and the other for the market. However, Irish immigrants found the price of pork in America to be very expensive, so they started using beef in their recipes instead and brined it much the same way as they would pork. This is how the traditional Irish dish of bacon and cabbage became corned beef and cabbage.
So, if you want to keep things strictly traditional and eat what the Irish eat on St Patrick’s Day, cook up some bacon and cabbage and serve it with some rich, flavoursome parsley sauce. In Ireland, the dish calls for a loin of bacon and in-season Savoy cabbage.
Here’s a traditional recipe for Bacon and Cabbage with Parsley Sauce from Ed Cooney, Executive Chef at the five-star Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Ireland.
Stew is probably the best-known dish that people associate with Ireland. In fact, a stew is so ubiquitous in Ireland that it even made its way onto a postage stamp.
Stews are a method of cooking a meal in one pot. Every household in Ireland has its own way of making stew, but, traditionally, Irish stew was made with a combination of mutton, onions, potatoes, water and some light seasoning of salt and pepper.
A controversial ingredient in a stew is carrots and you’ll often hear Irish cooks ask ‘do you put carrots in your stew’? People feel strongly about this addition. However, nowadays, you’ll find all sorts of flavour enhancers in Irish stew recipes including celery, leeks, bay leaf, chicken stock and even oxtail soup!
In Ireland, you’ll find many restaurants and pubs serving a modern take on a traditional stew made with beef and Guinness. But whether you opt for traditional Irish lamb stew or beef and Guinness stew, just make sure you make it the night before serving, as all Irish people know that stew always tastes better the next day.
Looking for some traditional Irish stew recipes? Here’s a Signature Beef and Guinness Stew.
Here is a flavourful Traditional Irish Stew recipe from Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb and here is a great recipe for Traditional Irish Stew.
Irish Seafood Chowder
Seafood chowder is a veritable feast of fresh, salted and smoked fish and evidence of the bounty of Ireland’s fresh waterways and seas. Irish seafood chowder is a very adaptable dish and ingredients vary from place to place and day to day based on the fisherman’s catch from the local waters.
A good chowder starts with cream and wine and then a mixture of fish and shellfish as well as vegetables like celery and potatoes. To enhance the taste of the ocean, carrageen moss is often added. This is a seaweed that is gathered off the coasts of Ireland.
In seafood chowder, the proportion of solid ingredients to liquid is larger, making this a very hearty dish indeed. The most traditional accompaniment to seafood chowder is homemade brown bread or soda bread smeared with a thick coating of real Irish butter. Traditional Irish seafood chowder really does warm the cockles of your heart.
Check out these cracking chowder recipes from Good Food Ireland® or its members:
West Coast Seafood Chowder Recipe
Kelly’s Resort Irish Seafood Chowder Recipe
Shepherd’s Pie is the ultimate Irish comfort food and a staple on dinner tables across the island. However, Shepherd’s Pie is not the same as Cottage Pie. There is a difference. The difference is the meat with which each dish is made. Cottage Pie is made with minced beef and Shepherd’s Pie is made with minced lamb. Well, the clue is in the name — you don’t see many shepherds herding cows, do you?
This isn’t a pie in the traditional sense — it is not made with pasty, and there is no crust. Instead, the topping is mashed potatoes (although we just say: ’mash’ here in Ireland).
Shepherd’s Pie is a great dish for St Patrick’s Day because spring lamb is coming into season. The minced lamb is cooked in a gravy with onions, and sometimes, according to preference, carrots, celery, and even peas are added. Then, this hearty mixture is topped with fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. You can elevate the dish even further by adding Irish cheese to the potato topping.
For a Shepherd’s Pie recipe with a tasty twist, try this version.
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Boxty is like a cross between a potato pancake and a flatbread. The traditional recipe varies from region to region, but they all feature grated raw potatoes. In Gaeilge, they are called bacstaí (derived from either bácús, meaning bakery, or arán bocht tí, meaning bread of the poorhouse). Boxty can be grilled, fried or baked in fact there is a traditional rhyme that accompanies this dish. It goes like this:
‘Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan, if you can’t bake boxty, sure you’ll never get a man.’
When making boxty, try to use floury potatoes like Kerrs Pink, Records, or Golden Wonder. Waxy varieties of potatoes just won’t work — it’s all to do with the starch content.
The basic idea behind boxty is mixing raw grated potato with flour and some sort of fat to form a patty. Some recipes also use mash potatoes, buttermilk, cream, and cheese. However, almost all of them call for lashings of real Irish butter for frying.
Serve with more butter as a snack or as an accompaniment to a full Irish breakfast. If you want to cook boxty for St Patrick’s Day, here are two great recipes from Good Food Ireland® members:
Rachel Gaffney Boxty Potato Pancakes Recipe
Colcannon is a comforting, tasty side dish that is very traditional to Ireland. In fact, the dish has been around for hundreds of years. In Gaeilge, it is called càl ceannann meaning ‘white-headed cabbage’. It is a simple concoction of mashed potatoes, white cabbage, butter and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper. It is a great accompaniment to any meal and is often served with bacon.
Recipes vary, some use cream to make the dish extra rich and some use kale instead of cabbage. Some recipes also call for onions, leeks or garlic for added flavour. Food historians believe that the name might be a derivative of the old Irish cainnenin, which can mean garlic, onion, or leek. Therefore, the dish may originally have been made with these ingredients.
Though most often associated with Halloween, colcannon is eaten year-round in Ireland.
If you’d like to serve up this side for Paddy’s Day (not Patty’s Day) here is a recipe for traditional colcannon by Good Food Ireland®.
Farls are baked potato bread — not dissimilar to boxty — that is served, most often, for breakfast. So, they are a great dish to kick off your St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Traditionally, they were made by combining oatmeal, butter and potatoes. However, nowadays, most recipes call for potatoes, butter, flour and baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. This makes a dough which is then formed into a circle before being cut into four symmetrical pieces — in Gaelic, the word farl means fourths.
Potato farls have a soft texture and are rather bland, which is why they are best served with, you guessed it, lashings of Irish butter or beef dripping, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
If you want to make this part of a traditional Ulster fry (a Northern Irish hot breakfast), serve the farls with sausages, bacon, black pudding, fresh free-range eggs, and fried tomatoes. You also need to add a couple of slices of soda bread too.
Speaking of which…
Irish Soda Bread
Homemade soda bread is a staple of many Irish households. It accompanies full Irish breakfasts, stews and chowders. Smothered in butter and jam, it is a wonderful snack served with a cup of tea.
This yeast-free bread dates back to the 1800s when baking soda, or bicarbonate soda, was first introduced to the country. This was during a time of widespread famine, therefore bread had to be made out of the most basic ingredients. Irish soda bread just has four — flour, salt, baking soda and soured milk. It is the chemical reaction between the acid in the milk and the baking soda that causes the bread to rise without the need for yeast, which at the time was hard to come by. Nowadays, Irish soda bread is made with yoghurt and milk, or buttermilk but it is still formed in the traditional round with a cross-cut in the centre, which is said to keep the fairies out.
Here is a fairy-free recipe for Brown Soda Bread by Good Food Ireland®.
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Rhubarb or Apple Tart
When it comes to the sweet course of a traditional St Patrick’s Day meal in Ireland, a rhubarb or apple tart is what often appears on Irish kitchen tables. The Irish climate is perfect for growing rhubarb and is also easily grown in small Irish gardens. It is also in season in March so it is very easy to get your hands on some to whip up a pretty pink-stained pie or tart.
If rhubarb isn’t your thing, or you can’t get hold of any, then bake an apple tart, which is one of the most popular homemade desserts in Ireland. Most families have their own recipe handed down through the generations but to make it as authentic as possible, seek out Armagh Bramley apples. Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and the city was founded by Patrick. These PGI-status (Protected Geographical Indication) apples are grown and hand-harvested in the counties of Armagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
In Ireland, a traditional rhubarb or apple tart is made with a buttery, short pastry like this recipe for Mummy’s Rhubarb Pie.
However, you can also switch things up and bake a soft, fluffy apple cake instead. We love Biddy’s Apple Cake recipe.
Whichever one you choose will be perfect for your St Patrick’s Day feast as rhubarb and apple are two very popular ingredients in traditional Irish desserts.
Carrageen Moss Pudding
We’ve already mentioned how carrageen is often used in seafood chowder, but it is also used in a traditional Irish pudding. This red seaweed is traditionally foraged from the coast and is a delicacy in Ireland. To make this sweet, light pudding, first, the seaweed is cleaned and dried. It is then soaked in warm water before being simmered with milk.
The seaweed then starts to exude a jelly substance which is a gelling agent, kind of like vegan-friendly gelatine. The milk and seaweed are then strained and the liquid is mixed with egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and egg whites. Once this mixture sets, you have a soft, silky dessert that is delicious on its own but elevated when served with stewed fruit like rhubarb, gooseberries, or apple. The tartness of the fruit balances out the creamy sweetness.
You’ll find this delicious dessert on the menu of many farm-to-table restaurants in Ireland.
If you are looking for a traditional nightcap to round off your St Patrick’s Day meal, well, there are plenty to choose from. Ireland is of course famous for its whiskey, as well as Baileys Irish Cream, and it is the home of Guinness. However, if you are looking for something a bit more luxurious and comforting, you can’t beat an Irish coffee. No, this isn’t just a coffee dyed green – Irish people don’t really dye things green for Paddy’s Day – Irish coffee is a hot cocktail.
The first Irish coffee was served up in 1942, in Foynes in County Limerick. It is made from three basic ingredients – Irish whiskey, coffee and cream. A little bit of sugar is also added. You can use whatever kind of coffee you like, but it needs to be really hot, and the stronger the better.
As for the cream, it has to be freshly whipped but only lightly whipped. In order to get the cream to float perfectly on the top of the hot beverage, the trick is to pour it off the back of a spoon.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s our foolproof recipe to make the perfect Irish coffee.
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