Here’s a little known secret, Donegal cooking is the best in Ireland.
Don’t believe me? Consider what prodigiously skilled Donegal chef Brian McDermott has to say about the county in his indispensable new cook book Brian McDermott’s Donegal Table.
It rains more frequently in Donegal more than any other county in Ireland; that means the grass is literally greener and the pastures are too, McDermott writes. That benefit is passed on through the entire food cycle and it really does mean that what reaches the local tables is extra special and extra fresh.
In fact there are few counties like Donegal for fresh farm to the table ingredients, whether that be the vegetables that were grown in the local fields or fish caught in the rivers and loughs on the same day.
I can vouch for all these claims myself, as a former resident of the county. Growing up I remember that you could easily buy salmon that had been swimming in the local river earlier that morning. Trout was plentiful as was mackerel and other local sea food favorites. Freshness was prized and the dishes were unforgettable.
Our dairy products and our beef and lamb are also among the best in Europe, as is our local baking, so it’s an ideal training ground for an innovative chef and Brian McDermott’s Donegal Table demonstrates that McDermott is certainly that.
Opening this book is a bit like receiving a hug. So much care has been taken with the recipes and they represent the best and most genuine dishes you will be served in the county. The first truly nostalgic moment for me arrived with his recipe for a Big, Hearty Vegetable Broth.
In Donegal barley is often added to soups and stews alongside more traditional ingredients like carrots, leeks, celery and potatoes. It’s done for that extra warming, comforting kick. It’s all down to the unpredictable weather, which it arms you against, but its also down to texture and taste. Come home to a fragrant pot of his Big, Hearty Veggie Broth and you’ll understand just what makes a house a home.
Another showstopper in McDermott’s new book is his recipe for Wild Atlantic Way Fish Pie (a riff on the famous coastal road toward and through Donegal that’s one of the longest in Europe). With its symphonic ingredients including scallions, haddock fillets, milk, cheese, onion, carrots, leeks, garlic, milk, flour and cold mashed potatoes, you are assembling the basic elements of heaven on a plate.
McDermott very successfully combines gourmet stylings with his home style know how and he’s not too proud to give you what he knows you sometimes want. How about some home made Donegal Catch style breaded fish with a drizzle of lemon, but baked in the oven rather than fried, to boost your health?
If that seems a little elementary on the very next page he gives you Potted Smoked Haddock Mornay, which you can whip out at dinner parties to have guests compliment your sophistication and your way around a kitchen.
We’re all busy these days and McDermott knows it, hence his One Pot Wonders section for those nights in when, as the young people say, you literally cannot. Try his Lamb and Barley Hot Pot (barley is a warming theme in the book) and it’ll become a go-to dish for those long winter nights.
Lightly Spiced Chicken and Savory Rice is another flash in the pan quick dinner that brings a little Indian know how to you midweek doldrums. As with all of his recipes, the ingredients for this dish are all easily purchased and many you’ll already have if you like to cook a lot.
McDermott’s Chicken and Ham Pie is another snap to assemble and gives you time for what’s really important, sharing great food with the people you love. What McDermott recipies do, time and again, is get all the labor of the way quickly, allowing you to whip up delicious meals and affording you ample time to enjoy them.
It’s unpretentious, but still sophisticated cooking, that focuses at all times on every element that makes for a successful meal. Irish favorites abound. His recipe for Coddle (a Dublin take on Irish Stew that calls for sausages instead of beef or lamb) is the best I have ever seen.
McDermott makes room for traditional hits like Boxty and Potato Farls, he also whips up some mighty tea scones, then tells you how to make your best ever apple pie and gives you the heaven on earth recipe for five minute ice cream. I mean, come on.
Not only is he a gifted chef then, McDermott’s clearly in the running for the world’s best dad. This book will teach you how to run an Irish kitchen and it will also teach you just how discerning an Irish kitchen actually is. Buy it, thank me later.