Food writer and food historian Regina Sexton of UCC wrote ‘A Little History of Irish Food’. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

How many ways are there to make Irish stew?

I was told once (by an Irish person) that the further an Irish person is from Ireland, the more Irish he or she becomes! This can be especially seen around St Patrick’s Day when the internet is overflowing with ‘true Irish’ recipes for Irish stew (as if there’s only one dish that is considered Irish).

I saw a TV ad recently by a supermarket advertising ingredients for a traditional stew and the meat was beef. Now, I turned to my lovely husband and asked him if lamb would not be the traditional meat being used for a stew.

He had to think about it and finally agreed but also said that he doesn’t think that there was a unique recipe for Irish stew.

So I went back to one of my main resources when looking for facts on Irish food (‘A Little History of Irish Food’ by Regina Sexton) and her recipe indeed includes mutton or lamb. So, I conclude that lamb is indeed the original meat for Irish stew.

But what is traditional Irish food anyway? Is there something as traditional Irish food? Please don’t say potatoes as that’s an ingredient and not a dish (although amazing dishes can come from the humble spud).

Soda bread comes to mind – and before I came to Ireland, I had never heard of soda bread before. I have to admit, it’s not my favourite type of bread as I love yeast and sourdough breads but it is as Irish as you can get and I do have it with a warming soup. But I personally find soda bread rather on the dry side.

Traditionally, seaweed was used a lot in Irish cooking especially home cooking which has now been moved to ‘innovative’ restaurants who re-discover traditional ingredients.

But it isn’t used much in home cooking as far as I know and even I don’t use it frequently – saying that, I do like to nibble on seaweed ‘crisps’. For one reason, it’s low in calories and secondly, it is healthy and good for your skin as it is packed with nutrients and also supports your gut health (according to – always ask your doctor for proper advice in case you have problems in that area).

It is a bit of a desired taste but I got used to it. It is just a pity that it is so expensive when buying it – mostly heath shops stock it, it can be hard to find in supermarkets.

I could of course head to the coastline and harvest seaweed myself but a) I don’t have the slightest clue about the different types and b) it would be a tough job drying and preserving the harvest.

If you would like to learn more about how to use seaweed in your diet and cooking, Marie Power aka The Sea Gardener has published a book on the 10 most common Irish seaweed types and some tasty recipes with it. She also offers foraging trips where you learn how to identify each one.

I think I need to do more research on traditional Irish food and maybe we can revive it again (I am not talking about contemporary Irish cuisine – it’s another thing altogether).