A few weeks ago, some of us bloggers here were lucky enough to hold a joint signing at a wonder cookbook store called Salt and Pepper Books in Occoquan, Virginia. Talk about heaven! An entire store filled with delightful kitchen gadgets (like I don't have enough already) AND books, including our food-themed books. Not only that, people came to buy our books! This is exactly what a signing should be like.
Of course I bought several things, including two Irish-themed cookbooks written by Margaret M. Johnson. I can't tell you how excited I am about them.
Irish cooking has long had a bad rep—potatoes, watery stews, cabbage, and potatoes. It's understandable, because for a very long time, the Irish peasants (the majority of the country) lived on potatoes, cabbage, and milk or butter. Every day. In fact, it is a nutritionally balanced meal, and it kept those peasants going—until the famine in the 1850s, when the potatoes died. No potatoes meant no food, which meant people died in large numbers or left the country forever.
Sorry for that depressing bit of Irish history. What I want to say is that Irish cooking has most definitely moved beyond the potato, and there's some great stuff coming out of small restaurants and even pubs there these days. I started leafing through one of Johnson's books, The Irish Pub Cookbook (2006), and immediately grabbed for my sticky pad so I could mark recipes. And then wrote her a fan email. After all, my coming County Cork Mysteries are set in a small pub in Ireland (but my heroine is going to have to learn to cook!).
This was the first recipe that caught my eye, only because it was near the front of the book—there were plenty more, but I'm saving those for another day. For us here in New England, the outdoor grilling season is a little unpredictable, so maybe this is a farewell to non-summer fare.
SALMON CAKES WITH DILL SAUCE (from The Irish Pub Cookbook, with a few small tweaks)1 lb. salmon filets, poached until flaky (do not overcook or mash up)
2 Tblsp minced fresh chives (the only thing growing in my garden)
1 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
All purpose flour for dredging
Bread crumbs for dredging
Flake the salmon into a medium bowl and stir in chives, ginger and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.
Shape the mixture into four 3" cakes (I made more because there were three of us). In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Put the flour and breadcrumbs in two shallow dishes or flat pie pans. Dip each cake in flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs. Refrigerate for one hour (so they'll hold together when you cook them!).
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Fry the salmon cakes for 3 minutes on each side, or until golden.
DILL SAUCE (optional)
1 Tblsp unsalted butter (Irish if you've got it, of course!)
1/3 cup minced shallots
1½ cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
¾ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (Fresh is best, but you may use canned. If you do, drain the tomatoes before adding to the sauce.)
1 Tblsp minced fresh dill
In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the shallots until softened but not brown. Add the fish stock or clam juice and cook for 5-8 minutes until reduced by half. Add the cream and cook for 3-5 minutes. Season with pepper. Strain the sauce (if you want), then return it to the pan and stir in tomatoes and dill.
You may substitute white wine for part of the fish stock. If you do, add it before the fish stock and cook for a few minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.