Green giants: Mark Hix cooks up a feast to celebrate St Patrick's Day

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The parties on St Patrick's Day always seem to involve streets crammed full of drink-fuelled Celts in ridiculously big green floppy hats. But why don't we celebrate St Patrick around the table? There are so many talented producers in Ireland – from salmon smokers to black-pudding makers – and Irish cheese-makers are up there with the best in the world: Cashel Blue, Smoked Gubbeen, Cooleeney. Historically, much Irish food would be based around pork, bacon and vegetables, including, of course, those comforting potato dishes. I'm not quite sure how I am going to celebrate this year – but the one thing you can be certain of is that it will involve a pint or two of Guinness.

Breaded breast of lamb with split peas

Serves 4

Thankfully all my banging on about those old-fashioned cuts of meat seems to have paid off. Waitrose now sells a really interesting selection of cuts such as cheeks, tongues and breasts – cuts that chefs love cooking and which all good butchers should stock. I do hope the punters give these cuts a try, as the flavours are second to none and they cost relatively little. Like all good things, these cuts benefit from slow, careful cooking. And if you are cooking this recipe, it needs preparing overnight.

1 breast of lamb, boned, rolled and tied, weighing about 600g
A few tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
A couple of good knobs of butter
1 onion, peeled and quartered
A few sprigs of thyme
A few sprigs of rosemary
4 cloves of garlic
1 litre hot chicken or beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
80-100g fresh white breadcrumbs

For the split-pea dressing

100g green split peas, soaked overnight in cold water
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into fine dice
2tsp English mustard
1tbsp cider vinegar
4-6tbsp extra-virgin rapeseed oil, plus extra
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Season the lamb, heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan and brown the lamb on a fairly high heat. Place the lamb in an ovenproof dish with a tight-fitting lid. Add the vegetables, herbs and stock, season, cover and cook in the oven for about 1 hours or until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb and leave to cool and preferably refrigerate overnight.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the split peas, place in a saucepan, cover with lightly salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until tender; drain and leave to cool. Cook the shallot and carrot in half the rapeseed oil for 2-3 minutes; remove from the heat.

Once the peas are cool, mix them in a bowl with mustard, vinegar and the rest of the rapeseed oil to make a thick dressing. Season and add more mustard and vinegar or oil to taste if necessary.

Remove the string from the lamb and cut into -¾cm thick slices. Have 3 bowls ready: one for the flour, one for the beaten egg and one for the breadcrumbs. Season the flour well and coat the lamb in the flour first, shaking off any excess flour, then pass the slices through the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the slices of lamb for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden, adding a knob of butter during cooking. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. To serve, spoon the peas on to plates and arrange the lamb on top.

Oyster stew

Serves 4

If you're lucky enough to have some leftover oysters, or alternatively, if you have some of those great big oysters that aren't so tempting to slide into your mouth, here's what to do with them. This stew is an American-style concoction but probably influenced a bit by the Irish oyster-eating culture.

50g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A 100g piece of rindless streaky bacon
1tbsp flour
Half a glass of dry white wine
1 litre fish stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 leek, cut into cm squares, washed
2 celery sticks, cut into rough cm squares
300g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into rough cm squares
12 large oysters, shucked and juices reserved
100ml double cream
2tbsp chopped parsley

Cook the onion, garlic and bacon in the butter for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft, stirring every so often. Add the flour, gradually stir in the wine and stock to avoid lumps forming, bring to the boil, season, add the celery and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the leeks and potato and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, then blend one-fifth of the soup in a liquidiser until smooth and stir back into the soup. Add the cream, parsley and oysters with any juice, re-season if necessary and simmer for another 2-3 minutes before serving.

Boiled meats

Serves 4-6

This is the kind of dish that could be served up for a simple family meal on a budget, rather like the pot au feu that is a French speciality; or alternatively, you could turn it into a sophisticated, restaurant-style dish, depending on which cuts you use.

You can use any cuts of meat that require a bit of slow cooking so that you achieve a good-flavoured stock. After I came across some ox cheeks on the Waitrose counter, I was inspired to create this versatile boiled mixed meat dish along with some of the ham hock and lamb breast, with the addition of some chicken drumsticks.

1 ox cheek weighing about 300-400g
1 ham hock, soaked overnight in cold water
A boned and rolled breast of lamb weighing about 400-500g
4 chicken drumsticks
A few sprigs of thyme
12 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 onions, peeled and halved
4 carrots, peeled
2 medium leeks, trimmed and washed

Put the ox cheek, ham hock and lamb in a saucepan with the onion, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Chop the knuckle off the drumsticks and push the meat down the bone a little and add to the pot with the carrots and leeks and continue simmering for 20 minutes or so until the carrots and leeks are tender. Remove them from the pan and put to one side. Continue simmering until the meats are tender; it's difficult to put a time on this as slow-cooking joints vary.

Once the meats are cooked, remove them from the pot and strain the stock. Skim any fat off and simmer until it has reduced by about half and strengthened in flavour. To serve, cut the meat into chunks, cut the carrots in half lengthways, or in thick slices on the angle and the same with the leeks. Reheat everything in the stock and serve in one large serving dish or individual ones.

Guinness-baked ham hock

Serves 2-4

I've used Guinness and honey here to add a glaze to this ham hock. Serve it with an Irish potato dish such as champ or colcannon for a main-course dish.

Two unsmoked ham hocks weighing about a kilo each, soaked overnight in cold water
500ml Guinness
5-6tbsp clear honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, peeled and halved
12 peppercorns
2 large carrots, peeled and halved
A few sprigs of thyme

Wash off the ham hocks and place in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Add the onion, peppercorns, carrots and thyme. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat is starting to come off the bone. Leave to cool, then remove the large bone that runs through the ham hock, leaving the small bone in. You don't have to do this but it just makes it more presentable.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Line a large roasting tray with doubled-over foil then place the hocks on top. Pour over the honey and some of the Guinness and bake in the oven for about an hour, pouring over more Guinness every so often and basting it. The hocks should have a caramel colour on the outside, but be careful it doesn't burn. If it colours too much, then cover loosely in foil.