Though St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate Irish ancestry, too many revelers are suckered into scarfing down Plastic Paddy fare like Irish nachos, Guinness burgers or – saints preserve us – Shamrock Shakes. This year, keep an eye out for these menu items to fill your stomach with some authentic Irish (and, yes, Irish-American) eats.
Corned beef and cabbage
This quintessential St. Patrick's Day dish is – like so many other parts of the typical American celebration – not actually Irish. There is an Irish equivalent, bacon & cabbage (think Canadian-style lean bacon, not the fatty slices popular here), but when Irish immigrants arrived in the States, they found that corned beef was both cheaper and more readily available in urban areas. The dish is easy to make at home with a little bit of forethought, and usually turns out well in a slow cooker. Most store-bought corned beef comes with a packet of seasonings to add during the boiling or slow-cooking process, but hard-core cooks will have their own opinions about the proper blend. Toss in some carrots and potatoes and you'll have a hearty meal and leftovers to help you out with your hangover on March 18.
If you're eating out on St. Paddy's (and please, by all means, don't forget to eat something) you should have no trouble finding a plate of corned beef and cabbage, as many American Irish pubs cook up batches to serve just for the holiday. If you're looking for it in the off season (i.e., every other day of the year), check out Fiddler's Green or Liam Fitzpatrick's.
In a perfect world, colcannon would be at least as popular on menus as boring old "smashed potatoes." In its most basic incarnation, this Irish staple consists of creamy mashed potatoes swirled with cabbage or kale. Just like chicken noodle soup, though, you'll find that colcannon recipes vary widely from family to family. At my house, for instance, blanched kale is usually joined by diced bacon and sautéed sweet onion, with cheddar cheese melted on top. Though it's commonly served as a side at places like Fiddler's Green and Raglan Road, the thick and savory mixture can easily end up being the main event at a meal since it's so filling.
Though it's not only associated with Ireland, shepherd's pie (frequently called "cottage pie") is representative of the rustic, peasanty cuisine usually associated with Ireland. Like colcannon, recipes are as varied as the people that make the dish, but at its most basic, shepherd's pie consists of a layer of meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and baked. The meat is traditionally lamb (hence "shepherd's" pie), but most of the variations you'll find on this side of the Western Ocean use beef. Peas, onions and carrots are common vegetables in traditional recipes, though corn is a popular American addition.
If you're making a shepherd's pie at home, be sure to mix an egg yolk into the mashed potatoes to ensure a beautifully browned crust on top. And don't be scared to pipe the potatoes through a pastry bag to add flourish to an otherwise workmanlike dish. Commercial versions can be found all around town, including Claddagh Cottage, the Harp and Celt, Fiddler's Green, Liam Fitzpatrick's and Raglan Road.
Soda bread has nothing to do with fizzy pop, but refers instead to the baking soda that's used as a raising agent instead of yeast. Soda bread's distinctive characteristic is the thick crust that forms around the loaf, which preserves the soft inner part until it's sliced. A common variation includes raisins and cranberries thrown into the dough, turning the crusty bread into a sweet treat that tastes great adorned with a little butter. Purists may scoff at turning soda bread into a dessert, but you can pick up a loaf with golden raisins and cranberries at Olde Hearth Bread Co. in East End Market.
You're probably familiar with the stereotype of the Irish being heavy drinkers, pounding pints of Guinness and other dark beers at an impressive clip. But what you may not know is that the average alcohol content of beer in Ireland is about 3 to 5 percent alcohol by volume. The ubiquitous Guinness sits at a modest 4.2 percent. So if you're trying to keep an Irishman's drinking pace while knocking back dyed-green Budweiser, you're really just on pace to make yourself look like a twat. Opt instead for Guinness or Magners Irish Cider (known as Bulmers in the Republic of Ireland, but it's the same stuff).
And if you're looking to drink whiskey, please don't do it in the form of an Irish Car Bomb. Ordering one is about as classy as dropping shots into 27 half-pints and calling it a "Sandy Hook Elementary School." Instead, try to get your hands on some single pot still Irish whiskey and savor the peaty smoothness of one of Ireland's best inventions. Redbreast and Powers both have single pot still variations available at Total Wine for slightly less than what you'd pay for a good single malt scotch.