Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Great Coddle Controversy

Anyone who has ever heard Dublin folk talking about coddle will know how divisive the topic can be. I have overheard people engaged in passionate debates about the best way to cook the famous dish.  To those who don't know, coddle is a recipe uniquely associated with inner city Dublin. It is a stew-like dish which consists of  basic vegetables like onions and potatoes in addition to the main ingredients, bacon and sausages. To many people, coddle is an evocative meal, one that conjures memories of childhood dinners. Others simply enjoy its indulgent quality. When done well, coddle can be a sophisticated dish, its flavoured developed through slow cooking. It was Jonathan Swift and Se├ín O'Casey favourite meal, according to report.

To working-class people in the past, Dublin coddle was a hearty, nourishing meal made up of leftover meat. Today, it is comfort food to many who grew up with the dish, and who still insist that only they know the proper way to prepare it. Some insist on white coddle, in which the ingredients are boiled together, while others prefer the dish to be flavoured with a stock cube or gravy browning. To the former group, this is tantamount to heresy. 'Real Dubliners don't eat brown coddle,' I heard one work colleague comment.

What is the difference? Well, the addition of stock gives the meal more of a stew-like flavour than coddle puritans are comfortable with. It turns out that fans are just as picky when it comes to the vegetables included in the recipe. I read furious online comments which read:  'Boo, no carrots! Sacrilege, Carrots in Irish Stew not coddle' and 'these people who are putting carrots in a coddle must be the same sorts who put beans in a full irish breakfast. Culchie infiltrators.' Tomatoes are another eccentric ingredient that some add to the pot. There seem to be no end of twists and variations on the classic recipe, each claiming to be their Granny's authentic Dublin coddle. Myself, I have no ethical problem with people adding tinned peas or cracking a dozen eggs over the top. Like language, food develops its own local dialects and variations over the years.

Many find the idea of throwing sausages and rashers into a pot and boiling them with onions and potatoes to be disgusting. This was my initial thought, but as a true student of food culture, I felt it my duty to try it out. My recipe was adapted from this, and I couldn't resist adding a drop of stout as suggested by the Wikipedia page:

* 250g unsmoked back bacon cut into lardons
* 250g sausages
* 3 medium onions
* 750g peeled potatoes
* 500ml water/stock
* chopped parsley
* drizzle of O'Hara's or other stout

In a heavy-bottomed pot, lay chopped onions on the bottom and layer the other ingredients. Season each layer with pepper. Add water/stock, Guinness and parsley. Cover tightly, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 2-5 hours to allow flavour to develop.

Best served with soda bread or quickly boiled cabbage and a glass of the remaining stout.

It may not look like much, but it's surprisingly delicious. The flavour is helped by the generous addition of pepper, and the stout adds a nice undertone and helps cut through the salt. The sausages were not at all slimy as I had feared, but rather melted delightfully in the mouth. Highly recommended.

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