Learn about the meats that are most popular in Ireland from the nation's slow-food pioneer and celebrated cookbook author.
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portrait of darina allen in greenhouse holding kale
Credit: Courtesy of Darina Allen / Kristin Perers

With St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, Irish cuisine and all of its customs come into focus. Stateside, well-known dishes like Shepherd's Pie and Corned Beef and Cabbage will grace many of our tables, but the upcoming holiday had us wondering what other types of meat the Irish enjoy cooking. For insights on how the Irish like to cook meat at home, we spoke with Darina Allen of the renowned Ballymaloe Cooking School. In addition to running the prestigious culinary school, Allen is Irelands slow-food pioneer, and the author of more than ten cookbooks, including the recently reissued Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

Bangers, Otherwise Known as Irish Sausage

One-half of a popular dish around St. Patrick's Day (Bangers and Mash, that is), bangers are a type of fresh sausage made with pork, breadcrumbs, and seasonings. With "bangers" being such a unique name, we asked Allen for a short history lesson. Naturally, she was happy to oblige: "When meat was short during World War I," she explains, "sausages were made with a number of fillers, notably water that caused them to explode when cooked hence the name bangers." It's worth noting that no one in Ireland actually calls these sausages "bangers;" since the name is originally British, the preferred term is "Irish sausage."

Outside of the U.K., however, the name "bangers" is used interchangeably with Irish sausage, English sausage, and pretty much any British sausage. When pan-fried, the skins become delightfully snappy and crisp, and they are an essential part of a traditional full Irish breakfast.

Beef

If you just looked at the U.S. on St. Patrick's Day, you would assume that corned beef was the most popular meat for the occasion. In Ireland, however, it's not really a thing. Instead, for special occasions, Allen sings the praises of "a wonderful roast of prime rib of Irish grass-fed beef. It is certainly a cause for celebration. We serve it with three sauces—bearnaise, aioli, and horseradish—with lots of roast potatoes and gravy." Another Irish favorite for both holidays and everyday dinners is a rich Beef Stew simmered with Irish stout.

Lamb

There's another stew in Ireland besides the famous beef and stout combination: A traditional Irish stew is quite possibly the gold standard in Irish comfort food. In this delicate Lamb Stew with Young Vegetables, the grassy flavors of the lamb are complemented by fresh and light spring vegetables. If you're new to cooking lamb, Allen recommends using the shoulder cut for stews and braises, and the leg or loin for roasting. Ground lamb, which is the main ingredient in a traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie (the beef version being called "Cottage Pie"), also makes an excellent burger.

Bacon

American's love their bacon, which is cured pork from either the belly or back of the pig. The bacon in Ireland, however, is meatier and a little leaner. Also known as back bacon, Irish bacon is rounder, resembling more Canadian bacon than American-style. While Irish bacon is right at home during breakfast time, it's also the main component in the popular dish of Irish Bacon, Cabbage, and Parsley Sauce; Allen considers this to be the original and "quintessential" St. Patrick's Day dish.

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