By Noreen O'Donnell
NEW YORK (Reuters) - David Bowers grew up in Dublin, but he had never tasted corned beef and cabbage until he moved to New York. The dish that many Americans believe epitomizes Irish cooking was a mystery to him.
"Generally we have boiled bacon and cabbage in Ireland," he said. "And the cabbage is different and the meat is different, so it's a completely different dish."
Salty beef and soggy cabbage is replaced with Irish bacon and cabbage that is dark and full of flavor and texture, and it doesn't become waterlogged, he said.
In his new book, "Real Irish Food: 150 Classic Recipes from the Old Country," Bowers, 50, upends long-held notions of Irish cooking.
Real Irish food is more in the style of French country food - slow-cooked stews, apple tarts, and artisanal black puddings - all based on fresh, seasonal ingredients, he said.
Bowers, who divides his time New York and Dublin, talked to Reuters about Irish food, how to reproduce the recipes of his youth.
Q: Why is Irish food so misunderstood?
A: I think it's got a bad reputation because Irish food was generally home-cooked food, and restaurants and fine dining haven't been a part of Irish cuisine ... So when people go and visit Ireland, up until fairly recently, there weren't a lot of good restaurants for them to go to. ... Also Irish food hasn't translated well to the United States, or around the world, because it's very ingredient-dependent.
Q: What are some of the most surprising recipes in the book?
A: There's a lot of French influence in Irish food. If you go to Paris a lot of the seafood that you would be served ... originates in Ireland because we have a great diversity of seafood off the coast. So we have very good seafood stews. I have a recipe for a monkfish stew, which I grew up with although it would be seen as being very French.
Q: Are there any Irish dishes that you can't duplicate?
A: Irish flour is very different from flour that you have here in America. We have a very, very soft flour, whereas American flour is very high gluten. So it's very difficult to get the bread right ... Soda bread tends to be very dry and doesn't taste right over here, whereas in Ireland it's much moister and more full of flavor.
Q: Have Irish tastes changed?
A: Oh yes, particularly in the last 10 years I would say. Ireland used to be a pretty homogenous kind of country. There were only Irish people living there, but in the last few years, we've a lot of immigrants coming in from all over the world ... It's even possible to get a good burrito in Dublin these days, which would be very difficult in the past. I think people's tastes have become more international and people are dining out a lot more. The restaurants have gotten a lot better.
Q: Are any of those changes reflected in your recipes?
A: I actually tried to stay close to the more traditional Irish dishes in my recipes. That's another book maybe, because a lot of the traditions are changing now and it's getting harder to find some of the more traditional recipes.
Q: How would you describe Irish food overall?
A: Ireland is a very small country so things don't have to travel very far ... It's very fresh food. Seafood that you buy in markets was generally caught that morning. Bread was baked that day. All the vegetables in the region are local. That's the more traditional way of eating in Ireland.
A chicken is roasted with butter until the skin is crisp. Then the pan juices are flambéed with whiskey, and cream is added to the sauce.
Makes 4 servings
1 2- to 2 1⁄2-pound chicken
1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) butter, softened
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons whiskey
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rub the chicken all over with the softened butter and squeeze the two lemon halves over it. Put the squeezed lemons inside the chicken's cavity and sprinkle the bird liberally with salt and pepper, inside and out.
2. Put the chicken in a cast-iron skillet or roasting pan, and roast until golden brown and crisp, about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer poked in the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees F.
3. Carve the chicken and place it on a warm serving platter. Set aside to stay warm. Spoon off and discard the visible fat from the roasting pan or cast-iron skillet. Set the pan over medium heat and pour the whiskey into the pan.
Let it heat for a moment, then either set a match to the edge of the pan, or, if you have a gas stove, tilt the pan away from you toward the gas flame. The warmed whiskey will light and burn out quickly.
4. Pour in the cream and heat through, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the sauce over the carved chicken and serve at once.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)