Guinness Mussels with Irish Soda Bread

My anticipation for Spring is at it's highest now that daylight savings has arrived. I'm so looking forward to longer days, warmer weather and the fresh flavors the season has to bring. It's all worth celebrating and St Patick's Day couldn't come at a better time. I, myself, am not Irish, but I've married into an Irish family. Now, as a Turner, I think its important to learn a few things about it. Food is one of the best ways to immerse yourself into a culture and what better time to explore Irish cuisine than the week of St Patrick's Day!

So what exactly is Irish cuisine? Even when you look at the menus of "authentic" Irish pubs around Boston, I see "quesadillas" and "chicken Parmesan" as often as Shepard's Pie. It's certainly not "Irish" just because it has Guinness or whiskey (although a the Chocolate Guinness cupcakes I made last year were some of the best I've made). And  surely, there is more to Irish food than Corned Beef and Cabbage and Bangers and Mash (which I love).

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The Irish have never really been known for their food, not at least the way the French, Italian, German, Spanish etc are. The notion really surprises me because the wealth of ingredients available is incredible. Here is what I've learned so far:

  •  it isn't all about the potato ( it only arrived in the late 16th century)
  • the immaculate green pastoral lands make for great grazing grounds for cattle, sheep and other livestock
  • great grass fed cattle make for some of the worlds best butter, cheeses and milk
  • it's an island (duh) so don't forget about seafood
  • Irish cooking is simple and from the heart. Use what you have (think fresh and local)

This first recipe I'm sharing is all about simple, fresh, and "local" ingredients. The whole meal came together in about a half an hour (fresh baked bread included!)So let's get to it. Irish Soda Bread is a considered a classic. If you are planning on making any Irish meals this week, I beg you to try your hand at making your own bread instead of buying a pre-made loaf (or even worse, a "mix").

Irish Soda bread requires 4 ingredients and chances are you have 3 of them in your pantry already. All you need to buy at the grocery store is buttermilk.

I would have love to get some fresh buttermilk from the local farmer's market, but I didn't see any so I opted for some organic milk at the grocery store. The only thing adding flavor to this bread is the buttermilk, so it was important to me to get some higher quality milk (hormone/antibiotic free).

Preheat the oven to 400 and get ready to get your hands dirty. You will be glad you didn't dig out your mixer (one less thing to clean).

Get your biggest bowl and fill it with the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix to combine. Then make a well in the middle of the flour to pour the buttermilk into. Then, as seen, slowly pour in the buttermilk into the well.

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Then, using one (clean) hand, slowly start mixing the flour into the buttermilk. The dough will come together very quickly. It will feel sticky, but shouldn't feel wet. Once mixed, knead a few times. The dough should feel pillow-y.

In this shot, I was testing out a stone ground flour. I've made this recipe before with traditional all purpose flour, and I could tell be the texture the mix just wasn't right. The flour is much more course and I have a feeling the stone ground flour was much heavier, per cup, than the ap flour.

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 No worries, even with a little blunder, it took 5 minutes to start from scratch and get it right. For the heck of it I decided to bake both. The stone ground came out way too dry. I learned the hard way your can't replace alternative flours cup for cup.

Before popping in the oven, use a sharp knife to cut an "X" on the top and brush with a bit of olive oil or buttermilk for color. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

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At this point you are 30 minutes away from a delicious Irish meal! Crack a beer and kill some time (the mussels only will take 10 minutes).

Seafood goes far beyond Fish & Chips - you have Dublin prawn, salmon, cod, mussels and more! The market had some great looking Maine mussels harvested the day before so I knew I wanted to put together a dish around them. I had seen a Guinness inspired dish online I wanted to try to recreate.

The first thing you must do when you get home is to place the mussels in a large bowl of cold water. Add in a few tablespoons of cornmeal. This will help clean the mussels. Essentially, as they eat the corn meal, they get rid of the sand and other stuff that already was in their stomach (yuk, I know). Set them in the fridge (in water) until ready to cook.

A great mussel dish needs a great broth, and a great broth needs great flavors. This one starts off with a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions and celery (ironically in the colors of the Irish flag).

Get a deep dished sauté pan set over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter (I used Kerrygold). Add the finely diced veggies and begin to sauté for 3-4 minutes. You don't want to burn/caramelize them, just slowly sweat them.

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Get ready for the good stuff. Pour in a bottle of Guinness along with a 1/2 cup of chicken or fish stock to deglaze the pan. Add a bay leaf and turn up the heat to bring to a simmer and let reduce by half. Turn down the heat a little and add the half cup of cream. You want to let that simmer and reduce by half again, but need to watch closely that you don't scald the milk. Be sure not to have the heat up too high.

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Now you can add your cleaned, rinsed mussels to the pot. Cover and let steam for 3-4 minutes. The mussels are ready when they open. If they are a few that didn't open, remove and discard. Those were dead before you cooked them so do not try to eat them!

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I love serving this family style and let everyone serve themselves. By now, the Irish Soda bread would have plenty of time to cool. Cut several slices and serve with softened Kerrygold butter. The bread is perfect for sopping up all that delicious creamy Guinness broth.

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As you would pair a nice red wine with a Cog-Au-Vin, it would only seem right to enjoy a pint of cold Guinness along side the Guinness Mussels. That is just how my husband and I had this dinner. I have to admit, there is something really special and romantic about a meal like this. It really amazes me how a few simple, good quality ingredients can come together to make something so delicious.