Richard Corrigan on Irish food and St Patrick's Day

Richard Corrigan on Irish food and St Patrick's Day

by Great British Chefs 12 March 2014

Discover how Richard Corrigan has celebrated St Patrick's Day over the years and explore his passion for Irish food and the country's great farmers.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

In the run up to St Patrick's Day celebrations on the 17th March, we spent some time with Richard Corrigan, originally from County Meath in Ireland. Richard is now one of the most distinguished figures on the British culinary scene and will be returning to our TV screens as a judge on the upcoming Great British Menu.

Here he chats to Mecca about St Patrick's Day celebrations from his childhood, how he celebrates the day at his London restaurants and we explore his love of Irish food and farming.

Can you tell us about celebrating St Patrick’s Day when you were young?

St Patrick’s Day was treated like a relaxed Sunday and a real family affair. You’d go off to church and when you came back there’d be a little bit of boiled gammon or a boiled piece of ham. It was always simple and delicious but very family orientated. My parents weren’t great drinkers and weren’t really pub goers as such, so it would always be celebrated around the house, with friends, family and lots of children.

And how do you celebrate St Patrick’s Day now?

It’s always a very atmospheric day now. It’s slightly enhanced for people living outside of Ireland or Irish people living abroad and we want to make it even more special for them. I’m always working on St Patrick’s Day. We always have a big breakfast with friends here at Corrigans of Mayfair. We have a very civilised lunch, that runs through to a very busy and fun evening full of laughter and great characters. I probably know everyone that’s in my restaurant on St Patrick’s Day – it’s a strange thing to say.

Last year people were with us until 3 or 4 in the morning in the Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill singing songs. I don’t know how many bottles of champagne we drank but I remember waking up the next morning thinking “I’m glad this only happens once a year”.

What are some of your favourite traditional Irish recipes?

Every year I do my beautiful Irish stew which I’ve been making for about 22 years now. I use scrag end, neck or lamb shoulder on the bone. I poach the whole thing and it’s delicious. I always use my Tipperary bacon which is sent to me before St Patrick’s Day from Crowe’s butchery, in Dundrum down in County Tipperary.

They’re an extraordinary family of butchers and are probably one of the only family pork farmers with their own abattoir as well. It’s good to see a family survive like that. They’re really amazing people, as governments have always been very keen to close down small abattoirs and put them into big centralised units. They always send me a lovely shoulder of bacon over. It’s incredible and the dry curing they do is very special. I just love it, I love it, I love it, I love it!

How about the traditional collar of bacon – what are your recommendations for getting the best out of this cut?

Again you need to get a good supplier of the bacon. I use a collar from my friends in Tipperary and it’s a joint of meat that is fit for anyone, kings, queens, emperors. It really is a piece of meat that is a feast in itself. The cabbage is a wonderful little accompaniment to it, lightly cooked, ever so slightly salted butter. Colman’s mustard on the side if you can have it. I think a really lovely English / Irish relationship is Colman’s mustard and Irish bacon.

Which ingredients would you say are the best that Ireland produces, that you can only really get from Ireland?

I struggled to get proper bacon in Britain over the last 24 or 25 years. I don’t know why, but I’ve struggled. I’m sure 40 years ago in Britain I could get in anywhere out in the country. But a lot of these small butcher abattoirs have closed and I think an awful lot of skills died with them. When you see how bacon is produced now, I despair. That’s not bacon that’s just ham. Proper bacon still has a huge relevance in Ireland. People hanker after good bacon and there’s been an absolutely huge resurgence with it. But the Brits know how to make great sausages – end of story! But the Irish when it comes to a good bacon cure, I don’t know anyone doing it as good as my buddies in Ireland.

In Ireland you get these lovely old houses with a very singular style of country food. You might call it old fashioned – I call it delicious.

What is it about Irish food right now that you particularly admire?

I’m a huge fan of so many people in Ireland. A lot of the traditions of Irish food are hanging around a British country house tradition. It’s not far removed from what you would class here as country house cuisine. It’s an old found sense of hospitality which you don’t see as much. In Ireland you get these lovely old houses with a very singular style of country food. You might call it old fashioned – I call it delicious.

What are some of the preconceptions you’ve heard about Irish food – any that you would like to set straight?

Well a sous chef once said to me “How many potato dishes can you Irish chefs cook?” The fact of the matter is there’s a really good culture of potato growing that’s very unique. A lot of it is based down in Wexford in the Hook peninsula. When you go down there and taste the potatoes that come out of that soil, then you realise “Ooops I can’t get these in London, I can’t get these in Britain”. A lot of them are exported to Britain by the large farmers there. But they’re exported very quietly and put away with a little secret handshake. There is some incredible farming going on in Ireland and a big movement back to a real natural ethos and a real balance with nature again.

We love your Honey and Stout Tart, which is a new recipe to our site. How did you come up with that idea and what type of stout should you use?

A lot of food writing just goes back 40 or 50 years, but if you dig a lot further back in the 1600’s or 1700’s. People were making stout-like drinks from barley and there was an awful lot of honey around. So you don’t have to do a lot of research to find honey and stout being used in a lot of recipes. Stout is a London drink really that fell out of fashion during the Napoleonic wars when there was a tax placed on barley growing in the UK which didn’t happen in Ireland. So traditional stout declined in England but blossomed in Ireland. There are still pockets around Britain that make brilliant stout or porter and it was drunk in the London markets. But when stout is reduced it becomes sweet in itself with a honey like consistency so it’s not a bad mix to have at all.

Just make sure you use a fantastic quality of stout and if you can find a small local artisan maker, even better as you’ll get even more flavour. Stay away from those that have more of a burnt taste. Some of them will be so harsh and heavy that they really won’t work in that recipe.

Visit Richard Corrigan's website for more on his work and restaurants. You can also follow him on Twitter @CorrigansFood