As a legit Irish-American, I have a certain amount of guilt inherent to feeling responsible for the drunken displays of youthful exuberance so associated with St. Patrick’s Day. This year, while on a long pre-dawn jog, I saw a group of twenty-somethings in green lined up outside of a bar at 6 AM waiting to drink. Now, I regularly see bar workers leaving the bar while on my run, but this was a first. Coincidentally, this was the year where I stepped back from novelty St. Patrick’s day meats of years past, both corned beef tongue and corned beef, Guinness, and cabbage sausage, and went traditional.
Now the Irish do not have much of a culinary reputation, fairly or unfairly, but the person that I think of when I think of real and great Irish food is Darina Allen. From my travels to Ireland, I knew that corned beef and cabbage was not traditional, but aside from Irish breakfast, shepherds pie, and Colcannon, I did not know much about traditional Irish food before breaking into “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” and spotting mention of boiling bacon.
Boiling bacon is an unsmoked, but cured pork loin that, unsurprisingly, you cook by boiling. The dish that Ms. Allen highlights in her book is boiling bacon, cabbage and parsley sauce. I am not much for white sauces on top of boiled meats, so I omitted the parsley sauce and in its place I added something a little less traditional, but not far off. When in Ireland last, we had steel cut oats for each breakfast and Smithwicks for each elevensies. I cooked the steel cut oats in a combination of Smithwicks, milk, and water then finished by stirring in mustard seeds and dijon.
After a brief back and forth with Rob the butcher about what exactly boiling bacon was, I opted for the traditional cut of the loin and the collar, which is more traditionally used for cottage bacon. Cottage bacon, as I understand it, is cured similarly to boiling bacon, just from a different part of the hog.
Since I opted for moderation in terms of amount of protein for the holiday, the curing time was very short. After a few days in a wet cure made from water, white wine, salt, brown sugar, lemon, garlic, and sage, these thinner cuts were left out in the fridge uncovered to dry out a little before boiling.
After boiling the bacon and vegetables for a few hours, both the boiling and cottage bacon were fork tender. While this is the desired texture, since I was not working with large cuts, but rather small pieces of each cut, slicing the bacons was nearly impossible. No matter to us, the imperfect slices were delicious. Sweeter than typical American bacon and without the smoke, this resembled corned beef more than American bacon. After a few bites, I started noticing hints from the lemon and the brightness was welcomed. Boiled corned beef with cabbage, carrots, and potato is a heavy dish without much to bring it up, but this dish was light and varied in texture and flavors.
The steel cut oats with beer, milk, and mustard was untraditional, but served a great purpose of both starch and sauce. Steel cut oats still held the value of tradition however despite varying from the traditional framework of the meal (not to mention that it was served with risotto in mind) and having tradition on your side can only help – especially given the inauspicious start to St. Patrick’s Day 2012.
I would be remiss to not mention that my favorite part of St. Patrick’s day actually occurs on the day after when leftovers are chopped and made into hash. While there is no corned beef in the mix here, boiling bacon is not dissimilar enough to deter me. With delicious cured and shredded pork combined with cabbage, carrots, rutabaga and onion, this rustic hash was tremendous for breakfast on the deck with coffee and family.
Boiling Bacon Cure
Adapted from Darina Allen’s recipe
- 2 liters of water
- 200g salt
- 60g brown sugar
- 125ml white wine
- 2 lemons
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 tablespoons sage, chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds pork loin or collar
- 1 cup steel cut oats.
- 1 cup Smithwicks
- 1 cup cooking liquid from boiling bacon
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1/2 carrot, chopped
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons dijon