Cattle and the Countryside: Eating a Burger in Ireland
My first meal in Ireland, I’m ashamed to admit, was a burger; but delayed flights and public appearances with drool crusted on my face takes the argument out of me. And it was cold– bone chilling cold for someone arriving from Phoenix. I needed hot, filling food, even if it was something I could easily eat at home. As we waited just a wee bit too long for our burgers (after last summer in Hawaii and this summer here I am now convinced all islands are on island time, tropical or not), I thought about what I was told about Irish food before coming here. “Bring salt,” my sister said. “Don’t expect too much out of Irish food,” said my host and temporary Irish resident. Lower my expectations, got it. But as the delicious scent of cooking beef mixed with my hunger and jet-lagged delirium, I thought about the delicious aged cheddar! And the single malt whiskey! And the… well, the beer! It can’t be that bad if the cheese and they whiskey are good, and the beer inoffensive.
On that first bite of that aged cheddar and Irish bacon burger, I thought they were both dead wrong and dead right at the same time. A tomato chutney, no matter how well intentioned, how carefully prepared, will still be close to awful if made with watery, sunless, hot house tomatoes, and every burger in Ireland comes with a thick smear of it. That chutney—sadly–proved to be indicative of Irish food in general, well intentioned but bland, and the fruit and vegetables generally tasteless or having traveled further than I did to get there. But push the limp butter lettuce aside and oh dear, that Irish bacon, belly and loin, thick cut and cooked to chewy perfection. The beef, free range and local, juicy, not fatty, beef like beef is supposed to taste. Some of the best beef I’ve tasted in months.
And why shouldn’t the beef in this Ireland containing every shade of green imaginable be delicious? Traveling through the countryside in a tiny half-car of a rented Hyundai on a 1.25 lane road while dodging behemoth luxury buses full of Spanish tourists on what can best be described as a cardiovascular workout of a drive, even as the passenger, I caught full sight of those free range beer and dairy cattle. Tearing up great big chomping mouthfuls of that overly green greenery, having a mid-morning nap, taking a frolicking run after whatever it is cows frolic after, giving each other a good-natured licking on the neck … Now I’ve never seen that before, and I think I’ve seen my fair share of bovines. Normal cow behavior? Or perhaps that cow was thinking the same thing I was thinking as I watched it lick its fully grown grass -fed companion: “Mmmmm look at that herd of beef!” and “is it time for a pint yet?”
Guinness bacon cheese burger
makes four 6 ounce burgers
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/3 cup Guinness
8 slices Irish bacon
Good quality aged cheddar
4 burger buns
Kerrygold Irish butter, room temperature
Desired toppings and condiments
Cook bacon on a wire rack or on parchment paper in a 350°F oven. Combine ground beef and beer in a bowl and lightly mix until just combined. Divide into four equal portions and gently shape into patties. Season generously on both sides, and cook over medium high heat on a lightly oiled grill or cast iron skillet, and cook to desired temperature.
While the burgers cook, grill or toast the buns, spreading room temperature butter on each bun while it is still warm. Place cheese on the patties during the last few minutes of cooking, allowing it to melt. As for the rest of the toppings, build your burger the way I would if cooking for you at a restaurant : season wild arugula with salt and pepper and a light vinaigrette. Want some avocado on it? Sprinkle some salt and squeeze a bit of lime juice on it. Onions? pickled red onions or caramelized yellow onions. Treat those add ons as being just as important as the beef. A bit of mayo, a bit of Dijon, and a sunny side up fried egg.
Sources for ingredients:
Irish bacon and local grass fed beef
The Meat Shop
202 E Buckeye Road, Phoenix, AZ, 85004, 602-258-5075
Double Check Ranch
Various farmers market locations throughout Phoenix, check www.doublecheckranch.com for details or call 520-357-6515.
By Minerva Orduno