When chef Noel Cullen decided to write a book about the fine cooking of Ireland, he heard his share of jokes. "Who would want to read the smallest book in the world, the book of Irish gourmet cooking?" And "Elegant Irish Cooking . . . isn't that an oxymoron?" But Cullen persevered. He knew that the world of haute cuisine was in for a surprise.
"Along with the expansion of tourism and the strength of the 'Celtic Tiger' -- Ireland's strong economy -- there has been an explosion of restaurants in Ireland over the last 30 years. And during the last 15 years, the cuisine has truly come into its own," says Cullen.
He should know. At age 13 Cullen started out as an apprentice in the kitchen of the Jury's Hotel in Dublin. His rise as a chef mirrored the evolution of modern Irish cooking, even as it eventually brought him to America. Now, more than 30 years later, Cullen has recently wrapped up a four-year term as president of the American Culinary Federation. One of only 52 certified master chefs in the United States, he both cooks and teaches, as professor of hospitality administration at the School of Hospitality at Boston University.
"The potato famine is the crux of the myth," says Cullen from his home in Boston. "The Irish came to America starving, and looking for potatoes." True, the tuber sustained Ireland for many years before the blight. "Now people are starting to see Ireland for what she is: an island nation, with all sorts of resources and a unique heritage."
Cullen's cookbook Elegant Irish Cooking (Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2001) highlights recipes from great chefs working in Ireland today, as well as some of his own handiwork. You'll see familiar ingredients that have long histories in Ireland, such as lamb, potatoes, cabbage, and dairy products. But Cullen and other Irish chefs have given them surprising updates, and, whether played simple or sophisticated, the recipes offer a true taste of Ireland.Salmon was the most highly regarded fish in ancient Ireland, where it was roasted and served with honey.
Sprinkle fresh salmon with salt, sugar, lemon zest, and chopped chives. Sprinkle with lemon juice and marinate. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Finely chop the fresh salmon with a sharp knife (do not use a food processor). Place 1 ounce of salmon tartare on each slice of smoked salmon. Fold or roll into the shape of a small parcel and tie with a chive string. Place two parcels on each cold plate. Garnish with lettuce and lemon wedges.