Chasing Dublin’s most famous cheese sandwich

Interior of Davy Byrnes Pub in Dublin
Having spent a glorious hour or so sampling and buying farmhouse cheese at Sheridans (see last post), we thought it would be a great idea to lunch on the most famous cheese sandwich in Dublin, even if it doesn’t involve an Irish cheese.

Exterior of Davy Byrnes Pub in Dublin Although much refurbished and modernized, Davy Byrnes Pub (21 Duke Street, +353 1 677 5217, davybyrnes.com) has been a downtown fixture just off Grafton Street since 1889. It was a popular watering hole among the literati long before James Joyce immortalized the bar in Ulysses, published in 1922. In chapter 8, “Lestrygonians,” Leopold Bloom stops in on June 16, 1904, and orders a Gorgonzola sandwich. The dish is still on the menu, though the pub now fancies itself “Dublin’s original gastro pub” and emphasizes food over drink more than it did in Joyce’s day.

In Ulysses, “Mr Bloom ate his stripes of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine smoothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.”

We did not fare as well. “All out of Gorgonzola” was the refrain for several days running. We inquired at Sheridans if the pub bought its cheese from them. “Just once a year, on Bloomsday,” came the answer. We’ll have to go back on June 16 to see if they’re serving the sandwich.

As it turns out, enough people have been able to taste the sandwich that they offer descriptions of the assembly, so here’s a reasonable facsimile of Leopold Bloom’s light lunch intended to fend off hunger until tea. We made it at home, and can attest that, all in all, it’s not bad. By the way, we’ll be posting a delicious recipe for Irish brown bread soon.

Recreating Mr Bloom's sandwich

BLOOM’S GORGONZOLA SANDWICH

Ingredients assembling the Gorgonzola sandwich

Butter
2 slices of Irish brown bread
1/4 inch slab of mountain Gorgonzola cheese
1 slice tomato
Leaves of butter lettuce
Freshly ground pepper
Pungent Dijon-style mustard

Directions

Butter both pieces of bread. Add the slab of Gorgonzola. Top with tomato slice and lettuce leaves. Grind a hefty sprinkle of black pepper on top.

Cut sandwich in three or four strips. Lift up the bread and deposit a generous portion of mustard. As Joyce notes, “Mr Bloom … studded under each strip yellow blobs.”

27

01 2015

Exploring the world of Irish farmhouse cheese

Dominique Dorman at Sheridans in Dublin It’s not really surprising that Irish cheeses all come with a story. Probably the best place in Dublin to hear these tales is the local branch of Sheridans Cheesemongers (11 South Anne Street, +353 1 679 3143), conveniently located a short distance from Grafton Street, just around the corner from the Celtic Whiskey Shop (more on that another time), and close by St. Stephen’s Green. For a cheese-loving visitor, Sheridans amounts to a crash course on Irish farmhouse cheeses — and the perfect source to get pieces shrinkwrapped to take home in your luggage. Get a preview at sheridanscheesemongers.com.

Milleens sample at Sheridans Several commercial Irish cheddars reach North America, but farmhouse cheeses are another matter. In fact, farmhouse cheesemaking had nearly died out in Ireland, as dairy farmers focused on butter as a way to preserve excess milk. But in 1976, Veronica and Norman Steele began making cheese on their farm at Milleens, County Cork. Veronica had taken a course in large-scale commercial cheddar production, but used her newfound skills instead to make a washed rind cheese. Called Milleens, it was an instant sensation and helped to relaunch small-farm artisanal cheesemaking in Ireland. That’s a sample of it at the right. That’s one of the great things about Sheridans. Samples abound, and cheesemongers like Dominique Dorman (that’s her above, offering a sample of an Irish tomme) have all the tales that go with every taste.

Dorman explained that Ireland is so small and the cheesemakers all so individualistic that if someone stops making cheese, a whole style or category of cheese is lost. Fortunately, when her husband Eugene passed, Mary Burns, also of County Cork, kept making Ardrahan, a sublime washed rind cheese. Part of the secret to the flavor, we understand, is that Burns (like many Irish cheesemakers) holds onto her brine for years. Over time, the brine influences the flavor and determines which good molds grow in the rind—and which bad ones don’t.

Cheeses on display in Sheridans, Dublin Not all the Irish farmhouse cheeses are semisoft, washed rind varieties. We were blown away when Dorman gave us a nibble of Coolea Mature, a Gouda-style cheese made by Dickie Willems Jr. from the recipe of his parents. In 1980, the Dutch couple moved to Coolea on the Cork/Kerry border, got a cow, and started making cheese with their excess milk. The operation has expanded considerably since. All the milk comes from cows grazed on fresh grass, so the cheese varies with the season. As it ages past about 20 months, the cheese takes on toffee overtones and develops a slight crystalline structure. Needless to say, we brought a half kilo home….

It’s not surprising that a champion of farmhouse cheeses would be deeply involved in all manner of Irish artisanal food. For the last five years, Sheridans has sponsored an Irish food festival at its Virginia Road Station headquarters in County Meath. This year it takes place (along with the Irish brown bread competition) on Sunday, May 24. For details, see the website.

19

01 2015

Top food with a view at Sophie’s, Dublin’s newest

Sophie's at the Dean Hotel in Dublin When it comes to good eating in Dublin, the best choices at the moment seem to be either the self-styled gastropubs or terrific restaurants in some of the hotels. The latest arrival is Sophie’s (33 Harcourt Street, +353 1 607 8100, sophies.ie) at the Dean (deanhoteldublin.ie), a chic new designer boutique hotel. Both restaurant and hotel opened at the beginning of December, so by the time we arrived on New Year’s Eve, chef Darren Mathews (below) had Sophie’s running on all cylinders.

Chef Darren Matthews at Sophie's in Dublin The top-floor restaurant and bar is surrounded on three sides by windows with views of the Dublin rooftops. It’s a spectacular space, with banquettes and some booths lining the perimeter of the room and — in true Irish fashion — a big bar in the middle. You get a peek at the kitchen coming in, and one corner houses the beehive brick oven used for making pizzas. The Dublin weather is right in your face, but the warm interior includes ancient living olive trees as part of the décor, which makes it easy to laugh at pewter skies and order another glass of wine.

There’s definitely a Mediterranean quality to the menu as well — the wait staff set both olive oil and fabulous Irish butter on the table — but Matthews blends Mediterranean and Irish traditions in intriguing ways. For example, he serves a pork chop with mascarpone polenta, sage, and crumbled bacon. And he dips into home cooking for some dishes, like the “smoked potato and sausage soup” sometimes offered as a starter. It was so good that we vowed not to leave the restaurant without getting the recipe. Apparently sensing our resolve, he sat down with us and wrote the recipe into our notebook. He started making the soup at a previous restaurant when he scooped out the centers of baked potatoes to make gnocchi and thought to use the skins in a soup. It’s evolved from there.

SMOKED POTATO AND SAUSAGE SOUP

Smoked potato and sausage soup at Sophie's in Dublin You might expect potato soup in Ireland, but probably not made with roasted potatoes. Mathews suggests using thick-skinned potatoes and baking them at 450°F until the skins are very, very brown. The flavor changes depending on the type of potato. After experimenting, we like russets best for their pronounced earthy richness. Mathews adds thyme to the potatoes when he makes the recipe at home. He garnishes with mascarpone; we prefer the tang of goat cheese.

Serves 4

Ingredients

500 grams (17.6 oz.) potatoes
50 ml (3.5 tablespoons) olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 liter (34 fl. oz) chicken stock
250 ml (9 fl. oz.) light cream
meat from two links of pork sausage, crumbled
mascarpone or soft goat cheese
1 bunch basil, cut in fine chiffonade
extra virgin olive oil for finishing

Directions

1. Chop potatoes and roast at 450°F for 45 minutes or until very brown.

2. Add olive oil to soup pot and sweat onion and garlic over low heat until soft.

3. Add cooked potatoes, stock, and cream. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. In a separate pan, fry crumbled sausage meat, breaking up into small pieces with spatula. Remove from heat and reserve.

5. Process simmered soup in batches in jar blender until smooth. (Immersion blender works but doesn’t yield as smooth a soup.) Return to pot, stir in cooked sausage, and bring back to a simmer.

6. Place rounded tablespoon of mascarpone or goat cheese in each shallow bowl. Ladle in soup and garnish with chiffonade of basil and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

12

01 2015

Celebrating great dining in Dublin

New Year in Dublin We just returned from Dublin’s New Year’s Festival, celebrated over three days from December 30 through January 1. This was the fourth year of the festival, and the biggest yet. Along with the raucous parade (above), it featured live rock concerts, a Spoken Word Festival of poetry and rap, other music that drew on traditional and classical genres, special museum and gallery shows, and a whole lot of fun.

The Irish know how to celebrate, and it turns out that they have a lot to celebrate year-round with the new Irish cuisine. Ireland has always had the makings of great food — from the sweet vegetables to the succulent meat from animals grazed on its rich green grass to the fish and shellfish from its coastal waters. Now classically trained chefs are embracing their Irish roots and that great Irish provender.

Dining room at Cleaver East in Dublin A case in point is chef Oliver Dunne, who followed up on his Michelin-starred Bon Appétit in Malahide (north of Dublin city center) with Cleaver East (6-8 East Essex Street, Dublin, +353 1 531 3500, cleavereast.ie). It’s inside the Clarence Hotel, just off Wellington Quay on the south bank of the River Liffey in the Temple Bar entertainment district. The hotel is partly owned by Bono and The Edge from the band U2, but to our way of thinking, Dunne is the greater star. He was schooled the old-fashioned way–by cooking in the kitchens of great chefs, including Gordon Ramsay.

Salmon with apple fennel salad at Cleaver East in Dublin When he came home to Ireland to open his own restaurants, Dunne chose to serve simple dishes based on local ingredients in an informal environment. Cleaver East is an Irish interpretation of a bistro. The bar dominates the middle of the room and it’s surrounded on three sides by dining tables, with a few more tables on an upstairs balcony. As big as the bar is, the plates are a far cry from bar food. Dunne is something of a magician. He drew on Irish salmon, crisp apples, and crunchy fennel for a starter that used a touch of lemon and grapefruit to cut the unctuousness of the salmon and give a little bite to the apple-fennel salad.

Great steak at Cleaver East in Dublin He also presented one of the best cuts of beef we’ve enjoyed in a long time — a 7-ounce filet mignon of local beef that had been hung to dry-age for 21 days. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (as ordered), topped with broiled cherry tomatoes, and accompanied by a cluster of maché. You couldn’t ask for a simpler dish, but it was fit for an Irish king. In keeping with the bistro tradition, he also served a bowl of perfect deep-fried potatoes (“chips” in Ireland, as they are in England).

This being Ireland, after all, you’ll be hearing more about potatoes in future posts.

07

01 2015

Pantelleria vineyards honored by UNESCO

Bringing in the harvest of Zibibbo grapes on Pantelleria It’s a delight to learn that the United Nations has honored the grape growers of Pantelleria, naming the island’s viticultural technique part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And here I thought it was merely heroic. That’s what the Pantellerians themselves call it.

Donnafugata Zibibbo vineyard About halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, the rocky island of volcanic origins is arid and scoured by ferocious winter winds that stunt even the olive trees. Typically, houses are cut into the rock to provide protection from the wind and the blistering sun. The grapes are grown on “head trained bush vines” (vite ad alberello, in Italian). Each one is planted in a depression and trained in a low, broad bush system with two to four branches. Vines are typically 100 years old at minimum, and the vineyards are terraced inside rock walls, as if each area was a cellar hole. Maintenance is minimal, as the winds tend to keep the vines pruned. Picking is all done by hand.

Zibibbo grapes set to dry on Pantelleria The main grape grown on Pantelleria is known locally by its Arabic moniker, Zibibbo. Genetically, it is the ancient Muscat of Alexandria—considered one of the oldest genetically unmodified grape varieties in existence. Tradition holds that Cleopatra drank wine made from it. One of the world’s great aromatic wine grapes, this strain of Muscat is found all around the Mediterranean rim.

Antonio Rallo Pantellerian viticulture is the model of small-plot vineyards. Of the island’s population of 7,679, about 5,000 inhabitants own a plot of land where they cultivate Zibibbo in the traditional way, handing down the techniques from generation to generation. The old vines produce grapes that achieve powerful sugar and acid levels as well as a spicy aromatic quality lacking in a lot of hot-weather Muscat. Although Zibibbo is a tasty table grape (albeit with a tough skin and big pips), most of the harvest is dried on screens to concentrate sugar and acid before being pressed to make a sweet passito wine.

Ben RyéThe Khamma winery, owned by the Rallo family of Donnafugata (that’s Antonio Rallo above holding a cluster of grapes), handles the lion’s share of the island’s harvest, drying and pressing each region’s grapes separately to create a final blend for Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé, possibly one of the greatest Muscat wines in the world.

26

12 2014

Red Arrow big burger grabs headlines

Red Arrow - Newton Burger Old-fashioned diners certainly love their giant burgers. We wrote about the Miss Washington Diner in New Britain a few weeks back, marveling at the monstrous burger called The Monument. In a piece in today’s Boston Globe about the 24-hour Red Arrow Diner (61 Lowell Street, Manchester, N.H. 603-626-1118, www.redarrowdiner.com), we came face to face with the Newton Burger, presented above by general manager Herb Hartwell.

Red Arrow in Manchester N.H. In all fairness, the Red Arrow does serve salads, Jell-O, and other low-fat options, but the main clientele seems to gravitate to some of the heavier entrées. The place is known for its mugs of chili and its baked mac and cheese.

And its burgers. A burger on toast was on the menu when the Red Arrow opened in 1922, and there are some truly giant burgers on the menu today. The Newton Burger might be the ultimate cheeseburger, since instead of placing the ground beef patty on a bun, the kitchen stuffs it between two complete grilled cheese sandwiches — but not before dressing it with a scoop of deep-fried mac and cheese. The lettuce, tomato, and onion are window dressing. Didn’t you mother tell you to eat your vegetables?

Given its location in New Hampshire’s biggest city, the Red Arrow gets more than its share of campaigning politicians, especially during the quadrennial presidential season. The Red Arrow could save the country a lot of grief, trouble, and expense if they invited the candidates to a Newton Burger challenge.

May the best eater win.

Spanish orange & almond tart for Christmas

Holiday tart of almond, saffron, and Seville orange
Last year for the holiday season we made saffron shortbread cookies, and we were feeling bad that we didn’t have a new holiday cookie this year. We got to thinking about winter sweets and some of our all-time favorite flavors, and the two sort of came together.

Some of the quintessential tastes of Spain are almonds, saffron, and bitter oranges. Why not adapt our standard linzer tart recipe to reflect that different range of flavors? Instead of hazelnuts in the dough, we could use almonds. Instead of vanilla, we could use saffron. And in place of raspberry jam, we could use Seville orange marmalade. (OK, we know that the marmalade is more a Scottish than Spanish flavor, but it does use the bitter oranges of Andalucía.)

Our first thought was to make almond meal using toasted Marcona almonds since they are the classic snack almond of southern Spain. We did that, but by losing the skin of the almond, we also lost a lot of the taste. Moreover, toasted blanched almonds ground up into too fine a flour. The result was a perfectly edible tart, but one with a more crumbly crust and less pronounced flavor than we were looking for.

Back to the drawing board. In the end, it turned out that the much less expensive California almonds gave the best flavor and were the easiest to work with. We toasted them in a dry pan in the oven at 400°F for about 10 minutes, then ground them into fine meal in a food processor after they had cooled. This technique gives a good toasted almond flavor, and also makes the saffron flavor more pronounced. The strength of saffron will depend on what kind you are using. It’s not very Spanish, but we got the best results with “Baby Saffron” from Kashmir, using four blisters of the single-serving packs.

Slices of the finished tart go well with espresso or a flute of cava.

ANDALUCÍAN CHRISTMAS TART slice of holiday tart

Makes one 7 1/2-inch (19 cm) fluted tart (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
1 generous pinch saffron (0.2 gram)
1/4 teaspoon (1.5 grams) salt
1/2 cup (1 stick, 114 grams) butter, softened
1 egg
2/3 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1 cup raw almonds (150 grams), lightly toasted
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 grams) Seville orange marmalade

Directions

In coffee or spice grinder, mix sugar, saffron, and salt. Grind briefly. Empty into medium bowl. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to mix well.

In another medium bowl, place flour and baking powder. Whisk to blend. Grind almonds to fine meal in food processor. Whisk nuts into flour mixture. Add nut-flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.

piping lattice onto tart Pat 2/3 cup of the dough into bottom of 7 1/2 inch (19 cm) fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Place remainder of dough into cookie press or pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch fluted tip. Pipe around the edges to make side crust. Place orange marmalade into shell and smooth out until even. Pipe a lattice over top of tart.

Refrigerate tart for 30 minutes while preheating oven to 350°F. Bake tart until preserves just begin to bubble – about 35 minutes. Transfer to rack on counter to cool. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to balance the bitterness of the orange.

12

12 2014

Eat hearty at the Miss Washington Diner

NB06
Our story about New Britain, Conn., is in today’s Boston Globe (“Industrious city enjoys artful update”). But we didn’t have the space to write more extensively about the Miss Washington Diner (10 Washington St., New Britain, 860-224-3772, www.misswashingtondiner.com, breakfast and lunch $3-$11). Dan Czako, shown above, has been the owner of this early Fifties gem since 2011. Constructed in the optimistic postwar Modernist style, the diner has 24 stools lined up along the long counter as well as a clutch of booths. Czako is the head cook and a whiz at the grill. He’s big on hearty American meals at affordable prices. It’s the perfect combo in this working-class city.

Miss Washington Diner, New Britain, Conn. The Miss Washington also offers one of those great eating challenges. Czako calls it The Monument. It consists of four eight-ounce hamburger patties topped with four slices of bacon; layers of American, Swiss, and Provolone cheeses; two onion rings, A1 Sauce; and the usual burger salad veggies of lettuce and tomato. There’s also a pickle. Consume The Monument in 20 minutes and it’s on the house. Take too long (or leave some) and it costs $30. Many have tried, few have succeeded. Above, Czako shows off the Mini-Monument, which has only two-ounce patties. Even the Mini is a popular order for big, husky guys, and at $8.99 it’s a steal.

If you meet The Monument challenge, let us know!

03

12 2014

Paul’s baguette makes elegant bread pudding

lemon poopyseed bread pudding made with baguette from Paul The poppyseed baguettes from the Paul boulangerie (see previous post) are a taste treat unto themselves. But like all great French bread, they are best the day they’re baked. We decided that the logical thing to do with stale poppyseed bread would be to make lemon poppyseed bread pudding. The custard does not have any strong additional flavoring (like vanilla extract) and we didn’t make a heavy sweet sauce to go on top. Compared to most American bread pudding recipes, this one is almost austere. The dish is really all about the toasted nuttiness of the poppyseeds, the aromatic freshness of the lemon, and the delicious wheatiness of the bread.

LEMON POPPYSEED BREAD PUDDING


Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients preparing poopyseed baguette for bread pudding

1 tablespoon butter
6 cups (375 grams) 3/4-inch cubes of day-old poppyseed baguette
4 large eggs
1/2 cup (125 grams) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest and juice of 2 lemons
3 1/2 cups whole milk
confectioner’s sugar for serving

Directions

1. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Spread bread cubes in it. Add the poppyseeds and crumbs from cutting up the bread.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add milk and mix well. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes. Let stand, pressing down on bread occasionally, for at least 20 minutes or until bread is saturated.

3. While bread soaks, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Have a large shallow roasting pan ready.

4. Place bread pudding pan inside roasting pan. Add very hot water to come about halfway up the sides of the baking dish. (Do not overfill, as bubbling water can flood the dish.)

5. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean, roughly 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

26

11 2014

Paul brings real French bread to Boston

French bread - Nicolas Gautier of Maison Paul Boulangerie, Boston We’ve been known to drive from Boston to Montreal to get our fix of good bread, but even the Quebecois can’t make a baguette like the French can. Neither can we, and we frankly gave up trying years ago. Now we don’t have to. Whenever we get a jones for French bread, Maison Paul is now a 15-minute drive away. The famed French boulangerie began in Croix, near Lille, in the north of France in 1889. Some 125 years later, it has 600 locations around the world, with several spots in the Miami and D.C. metro areas, and now in Boston. On Friday, November 21, Paul started serving at Assembly Row in Somerville. The local flagship is opening in Boston’s Downtown Crossing in January.

French bread loaves baking at Paul in Somerville There are a lot of reasons why Paul’s baguette is so good (and so French, which is sort of the same thing). First, it is made with T65 flour, which is hard to find in the U.S., although King Arthur sells it in three-pound bags for $9.95. T65 is flour made with wheat that retains 65 percent of the chaff and germ. The protein content is rather low for bread flour (about 10-11 percent) but since the dough is proofed under refrigeration for nine hours or more, it develops very complex flavors and a stretchy texture. Second, it’s cooked in steam-injection ovens, which keeps the crumb moist while ensuring a perfect glaze on the skin of the loaf.

MaisonPaul3 Paul uses huge mixers with spinning arms that lift and stretch to mix the dough. But chef baker Nicolas Gautier (above), who will oversee all the Boston bakeries, and Thomas Crombez (a chef baker from Paris shown at right here) gave us a quick lesson in making baguettes by hand. In the tiny kitchen of the Somerville shop, they had us spill 500 grams of flour onto a wooden counter and measure out 300 grams of water. We used a little water to dissolve 10 grams of cake yeast in a cup, and 10 grams of salt in a separate cup. (Put salt and yeast together and the yeast will die.)

French bread dough cut into loaves at Maison Paul in Somerville We made a well in the middle of the flour pile and poured in half the remaining water. We mixed by hand, made another well, and added the rest of the water. When that was absorbed, we made a well in the center again and incorporated the dissolved yeast. As the dough began to develop, hand-blending turned to rough kneading. Finally we added the salty water and kneaded until the loaf was smooth and elastic and had the texture of an earlobe. This dough ball was set aside to proof (rise). It was enough to make almost three baguettes, each about 18 inches long (45cm, to be exact).

Thomas Crombez and Nicolas Gautier remove baguetts from oven at Masion Paul in Somerville The Paul bakeries proof their dough in trays and use an ingenious pneumatic dough divider to measure each baguette to a precise size, producing 10 baguettes per tray. (Before cutting, some trays are covered with poppy seeds on each side.) Each baguette is placed on a rolling cloth, five to an oven, and scored with a sharp knife to create the release points for extra steam. If you want to get fancy, you can use kitchen shears and snip alternating diagonals, then lift and twist the tips to create “ears.” (It’s a good technique for people who like lots of crust.)

French bread shows perfect crumb at Maison Paul in Somerville We then rolled the baguettes into preheated ovens (250°C, or 480°F) and cooked them for 22 minutes (21 minutes for loaves cut with ears to avoid burning the tips). To confirm that they’re done, Gautier explained, turn a loaf over and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow. Crombez carefully sliced a loaf in half lengthwise so we could see the honeycomb texture of the crumb—and observe that it gummed up if you don’t wait for the bread to cool a little before cutting. It was perfect, even before he brought out some French butter.

We brought several loaves home, enjoyed one with beef stew, gave some away, and found ourselves with leftover poppyseed baguettes. See our next post for our take on Lemon Poppyseed Bread Pudding.

21

11 2014