Irish Bacon and Cabbage

Adapting the Irish National Dish to American Supplies

As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around every year, many Americans break out the recipes for corned beef and cabbage. This actually is an American dish (although a delicious one). In Ireland, if there is a national dish, it would either be an Irish Stew such as Irish Lamb Stew or Beef and Guinness, or Bacon and Cabbage.

Bacaon and Cabbage will confuse many American readers – simply because what we think of as bacon is completely different than what is thought of as bacon in Ireland. So if you’re going to make this recipe (and you should, it is AWESOME), then be aware that you’ll have to do a little hunting to find the real thing.

American bacon is made from pork belly, and it cured, smoked, then cooked until crispy. Irish bacon is made from pork back or loin, is much leaner (although it does still have some fat), and is cured but not smoked. In Ireland, American bacon is called ‘streaky bacon’. Americans should think of something closer to Canadian Bacon, American ham, or Italian Pancetta. All three will work as substitutes in in recipes calling for Irish Bacon, but if you can, take the time and effort to find real Irish Bacon. You’ll thank me.

Now additionally, there’s another cut known as Irish Boiling Bacon, which is made from the shoulder. That’s what is used in this recipe. In America, look for a pork butt, or picnic shoulder – the same cuts Southerners use to make pulled pork. That’s a good thing – because these are not only easy to find, but relatively inexpensive. Certainly a lot less than bacon of any kind – American, Irish OR Italian. The trick to getting something closer to Irish boiling bacon will be to brine it – exactly like you’d brine chicken or turkey. For more information on brines, including video instruction, check out Basic Brine for Poultry.

Bacon & Cabbage:

•2 to 2 1/2 pounds Irish bacon – or if you’re stuck with American supplies:

•2 to 2 1/2 pounds pork butt or shoulder, brined as in Basic Brine

•1 medium head cabbage, cored and quartered

•Serve with either Parsley Sauce or Mustard Sauce (recipes below)

•Serve with simple boiled potatoes, or with Colcannon, boiled turnips or carrots


1.Place the bacon (brined pork butt) in a large Dutch oven and cover with cold water. Place over medium heat, bringing the pot slowly up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, and simmer the bacon for about an hour and a half. The general rule of thumb is to simmer for half an hour per pound.

2.Skim the top of the pot occasionally to remove and foam that will come to the top. This is just coagulated protein – but you don’t really want it. Once done, the meat will be for tender. That’s what you’re looking for.

3.About twenty minutes before the meat is due to be done, add the cabbage to the pot. Don’t put it in any earlier – you want the cabbage to still be a touch crisp – and overcooked cabbage smells like sulfur. Tastes a bit like it as well – so don’t over cook it. You’ll turn something lovely into something that tastes and smells a bit like brimstone. That’s not Luscious.

4.Pull the bacon out and place it on a platter or carving board to rest. Don’t rush this – all meats need to rest before cutting or they’ll be dry. So allow you’re bacon ten minutes – think of it as the rest time after a good workout. The bacon needs a moment to get it’s act together before you slice it.

5.Drain the cabbage while the bacon rests, and place it in a serving bowl. Make sure to reserve some of the cooking liquid to use in making one of the sauces. To serve the bacon, slice it thinly. Serve with potatoes, turnips, colcannon or carrots. The bacon really benefits from an intensely flavored sauce.

6.All done – Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Or any other, come to think of it!

Parsley Sauce

•4 tablespoons unsalted butter, Irish Butter if you can find it!

•4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

•1/4 cup of the cooking liquid from the bacon

•1 1/4 cups milk, heated

•Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

•1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook for about three minutes, whisking well to form a smooth paste.

•Whisk in the cooking liquid from the bacon, stirring constantly. Whisk in the milk, stirring constantly.

•Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for five minutes, or until thickened.

•Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and stir in parsley. Serve hot with boiled bacon.
Mustard Sauce

•3 tablespoons butter

•1 small onion, diced

•2 cloves garlic, minced

•1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

•1 cup dry white wine, I use a Chardonney

•1 bacon cooking liquid, plus more as needed

•1 1/2 cups half-and-half, plus more as needed

•Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter, and saute the onion and garlic for five to seven minutes, or until onion is translucent.

eight: 18.3pt; background: white; vertical-align: baseline; margin: 0in 0in 19.5pt 0in;">2.Stir in mustard and wine, and bring to a boil. Whisk in bacon cooking liquid and half and half and bring back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook whisking constantly, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until sauce is reduced by half.

3.Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper. If you wish to adjust texture, add a touch more half and half. Serve with the Irish Boiled Bacon.