On this side of the Atlantic, corned beef and cabbage may be about as Irish as a dish gets, but according to Darina Allen author of Forgotten Skills of Cooking bacon and cabbage is Ireland's national dish. This one calls for whole loin bacon, a British Isles export which is cooked along with the cabbage, sliced before serving, and paired with a creamy parsley sauce.
Unlike American bacon, Irish bacon is made from the back of the pig instead of the belly and is much leaner than streaky bacon. I used a presliced Irish bacon for this recipe but whole versions are available in British specialty shops.
Most of the flavor in this dish comes from the bacon that you choose. While preparing it, I realized that my bacon was relatively mild and added a few peppercorns and a bay leaf to bump up the flavor. The boiled bacon takes on a ham-like quality and the cabbage became plenty porky.
The bacon and cabbage is finished with a parsley sauce that's really nothing more than a béchamel made from milk infused with thyme, carrots, and onion, thickened with a roux and finished with plenty of fresh, bright parsley.
This Irish bacon, cabbage, and parsley sauce was a nice break from the ubiquitous St. Patrick's Day standard of corned beef and cabbage which I've always found a little over the top, especially when made from the prepackaged corned beef. Without all of the salt and spices you can really taste the ingredients that go into the dish—it's clean and fresh and decidedly Irish.
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- About 5 pounds loin, collar thick-cut bacon
- 1 Savoy cabbage
- 4 tablespoons butter
- freshly ground black pepper
- Parsley Sauce (recipe follows)
- 2 cups whole milk
- A few parsley stems
- Sprig of thyme
- A few slices of carrot (optional)
- A few slices of onion (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons Roux (recipe follows)
- About 4 tablespoons freshly chopped curly parsley
- 8 tablespoons butter
- Scant cup all purpose flour
Cover the bacon in cold water in a large pot and bring slowly to a boil.
If the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in which case it is preferable to discard the water and start again.
It may be necessary to change the water several times, depending on how salty the bacon is. Finally, cover with hot water and the lid of the pot and simmer until almost cooked, allowing 20 minutes for every 1lb.
Meanwhile, trim the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, removing the core. Discard the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage across the grain into thin shreds. If necessary, wash it quickly in cold water. About 20 minutes before the end of cooking the bacon, add the shredded cabbage to the water in which the bacon is boiling.
Stir, cover, and continue to boil gently until both the cabbage and bacon are cooked, about 1 3⁄4 hours.
Add the cold milk to a saucepan and add the herbs and vegetables (if using). Bring the mixture to simmering point, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain the milk, bring it back to a boil, and whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season again with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and simmer over very low heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Melt the butter in a pan and cook the flour flour 2 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. It will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.