Keeping the spirit(s) of St. Patrick's Day New spin on an old theme

March 16, 1994|By Margaret M. Johnson | Margaret M. Johnson,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The idea of a boiled dinner does have a ring of convenience to it. For traditionalists, corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots (my family added turnips as well) cooked together in one pot is the best way to celebrate on St. Patrick's Day. The fact that you have only one pot to wash, and the flavors of all the vegetables are blended together to taste like straight cabbage, somehow appeals to Irish-Americans who already carry the reputation of not knowing -- or caring -- anything about fine dining. For most, the phrase, "Irish cuisine," is pure oxymoron.

For tomorrow, say goodbye to tradition and peeling all those vegetables, and that dreadful smell of cabbage that shouts to all your neighbors, "I'm Irish today," even if you're not. Believe me, there is intelligent (cooking) life beyond a six-pack and a boiled potato.

For non-meat eaters, some of the newer St. Patrick's Day recipes provide delicious alternatives. For those who like to cook with wine, many include innovative ways to use Irish spirits. For more formal dining or for an additional gourmet touch which some like to call nouvelle Irish, the variations on St. Patrick's Day cooking are endless, to say nothing of the lyrical names Irish chefs give their dishes.

Boneless breast of chicken with mushrooms, for example, is Chicken Hibernia when it's prepared by Chef Michael Ryan of Arbutus Lodge Hotel, Montenotte, County Cork, who adds a half measure of Irish whiskey. Stuff the breasts with golden raisins, walnuts and apples and bake in Bunratty Mead, Ireland's honeymoon wine, and you'll have Craggaunowen Chicken.

Wendy O'Connor, proprietor of Ballyseede Castle in Tralee, County Kerry, calls her beef (without the corning) Gaelic steak when tomatoes, cream and Irish whiskey are combined in a zesty sauce, and Frank Sheedy of Sheedy's Spa View Hotel in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, adds raisins, caraway seeds and tomato paste to his traditional medieval stew with stout.

For non-meat eaters or for a delightful starter, Conal O'Sullivan, proprietor of Innishannon House Hotel in Innishannon, County Cork, created a roulade of salmon and crab meat, which requires homemade mayonnaise for the best consistency. Cockles and mussels Molly Malone, one of Chef Terry McCoy's favorites at his Red Bank Restaurant in Skerries, County Dublin, pays homage to Irish seafood as well as the lass who peddled her wares through the streets of Dublin's fair city.

Simple desserts like brown bread ice cream from Chef Patrick Brady of Dublin's Westbury Hotel and strawberry cheese pie offer a sweet conclusion to any St. Paddy's meal.

Chicken Hibernia

Makes 4 servings

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

1/2 pound fresh white mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 to 2 teaspoons roux

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded 1/2 -inch thick

1/4 cup butter

salt, white pepper

fresh parsley sprigs for garnish

Combine chicken stock and whiskey in saucepan. Add mushrooms and cook 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Strain and reserve mushrooms.

Return stock to saucepan and cook until reduced slightly, 3 minutes. Add cream and reduce further, cooking 1 minute. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons roux and cook and stir 3 minutes longer. Return mushrooms to sauce. Keep warm.

Saute chicken breasts lightly in heated butter, turning once, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Place cooked chicken in baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with sauce and place under broiler until sauce is bubbling and lightly browned. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Note: To prepare roux, which is used as a thickener in sauces and gravies, melt 1/4 cup butter in saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and cook gently 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Craggaunowen chicken

Makes 8 servings

8 boneless chicken breasts

1/2 cup fresh white mushrooms, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus extra sprigs for garnish

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup peeled and finely chopped green apple

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Bunratty Mead (see note)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup chicken stock

Place chicken breasts between 2 sheets of wax paper and pound until about 1/4 -inch thick. Set aside.

Combine mushrooms, bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon tarragon, parsley, raisins, walnuts, apples and salt and pepper to taste in ,, mixing bowl. Moisten with 1/2 cup Bunratty Mead and 3 tablespoons melted butter. If necessary, add more butter to make stuffing sufficiently moist.

Spread out each chicken breast. Brush 1 side of each with melted butter. Place 1 tablespoon stuffing in center of each. Fold in sides envelope-style and place chicken, seam side down, in greased oven-proof casserole dish. Brush again with melted butter. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees, about 25 minutes, basting frequently with pan juices.

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