[NOTE: I wrote this article for the March 13th St. Patrick’s edition of Expat Living in The Korea Herald]
Here’s a little disclaimer before we start. None that follows is traditional. It is far from authentic. It is nothing like your Irish grandmother’s food. Yet it tastes good, and that’s all that matters, right?
Saint Patrick’s Day is a week away. English speaking ex-pats tend to celebrate Saint Patty’s more rigorously in non-English speaking countries. It is also an occasion to say, “Come on, spring, hurry up, will you?”
I once catered a big Saint Patrick’s party, where I learned to cook and appreciate good honest Irish food. In Korea, though, some of those must-have ingredients for Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage are hard to find or too expensive to be worth it. That’s when you start being flexible.
Irish stew was a proud peasant dish made from whatever ingredients one had available, mainly lamb and root vegetables. Lamb is available in Korea at a decent price. In Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, at least, there are a handful of grocery stores that cater to central Asian immigrants. They stock a healthy supply of frozen Halal lamb meat and parts. If you can’t get lamb beef works, even though expensive. Even a shoulder of pork can be made into an Irish stew. Make sure your meat, around a kilogram, is cut into large cubes.
Brown the meat in some oil, along with two sliced onions, two teaspoons of thyme and a generous toss of salt and pepper. Then add three peeled and cut potatoes, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and a few bottles of Hite Stout. I know, Guinness is optimal, but I have found the Korean black beer to be a good cooking agent. Add water until everything is just covered. Boil and then simmer covered on low for an hour. Add three sliced monster Korean carrots, a quarter cup of barley (“bori” in Korean) and a quarter cup of heavy cream or milk. Cover and simmer for one more hour, and you’re done.
There is an Irish proverb, “Mussels are the food of kings.”
Mussels are plentiful and cheap in Korea. The trick to cooking them is to only buy and use mussels with tightly closed shells and to pry their beards off with some good strong pliers. Here’s a variation on an Irish pub staple. In a pot on medium heat, dump a bag of trimmed mussels, a chopped onion, three cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon of thyme, a bottle of Hite Stout, a half cup of milk or heavy cream and half a stick of butter. Cook until the mussels open and serve with chopped parsley, sliced lemon and crusty bread.
For dessert, how about making an Irish cream pudding? The popular liqueur is starting to find more popularity in Korea. Stir and melt half a cup of brown sugar with half a stick of butter. Add half a cup of heavy cream and stir over low heat until everything is dissolved. Then pour in a cup of milk, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a half cup of Irish cream liqueur. Remove from heat and cool to barely lukewarm. Dissolve three tablespoons of cornstarch or potato starch into three tablespoons of water and stir into the pudding mixture. Return to medium high heat and stir until the mixture thickens. Reduce to simmer and stir briskly for one minute. Pour the pudding into small bowls, cover in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Yes, the purists are spewing their Guinness as they read this. Yet the mark of Irish cuisine is that it can adapt to wherever it is.