From fresh native oysters to luscious lamb, Ireland’s incredible larder has long since put it on the culinary map. And with many Michelin star chefs insisting on using nothing but Ireland’s finest, Irish ingredients are now working their way onto the menus of top restaurants the world over. Farmers Markets up and down the country – from The English Market in Cork (visited by HM The Queen in 2011) to the Temple Bar Market in Dublin – know they’re on to a good thing, too. Burgeoning in size over the past few years, they’ve all noticed demand rocketing. Even on the Ashford Estate, the sheer bounty of local ingredients can be experienced across Chef Jonathan Keane and Chef Philippe Farineau’s award-winning menus, whipped into the ultimate expression of fine dining at George V Dining Room and Wilde’s at the Lodge, or innovate takes on traditional Irish dishes at The Dungeon. On your next trip to Ashford Castle or The Lodge at Ashford Castle, sample exceptional cooking using the finest local produce for a true taste of Ireland.
Irish cattle usually live their lives in the great outdoors, munching grass in lush pastures and nibbling on berries from hedgerows and ditches. Heritage breeds such as Irish Angus, Hereford, Dexter and Shorthorn are renowned all over the world (including top hotels) for their superior quality, which is accentuated by a minimum of 21 days dry-ageing on the bone.
Try: Feather-Blade castlemine beef braised in Guinness at Wilde’s at The Lodge.
Usually caught wild off the west coast of island or farmed in small, mostly organic fish farms, good husbandry sits at the heart of the Irish fisherman’s code. But the salmon’s peerless quality is not just due to good practice. Strong currents, the exposed nature of the west coast and low stocking densities, mean the result is a healthy, toned fish packed with plenty of flavour.
Try: Organic Salmon Carpaccio with chilli, lime and coriander at The Dungeon.
The combination of climate and diet results in a sweet-flavoured lamb that’s simply delicious. Though we naturally talk more about lamb in the spring, Ireland’s finest really comes into its own around August, having gorged themselves on grass, gorse and heather. Often roasted with rosemary and garlic, skewered on kebabs with courgettes or covered with pistachio and anchovies, it’s one of Ireland’s favourite meats.
Try: Marinated Lamb T-bone with fine ratatouille, roast potato, goat cheese and rosemary jus at The Dungeon.
Garlic & Herbs
Known locally as “ramsons”, wild garlic grows prolifically in woodland and hedgerows up and down Ireland in spring – often carpeting the ground in the process. If you want to harvest some yourself, look out for its spear-shaped leaves and white flowers. Particularly sought after by chefs for its pungent smell and powerful flavours, it’s often used in salads, oils and sauces.
Try: Homemade Tagliatelle with pickled mustard seeds and wild garlic leaves at Wilde’s at The Lodge.
September kicks off the oyster season in Ireland, with lots of festivals and food fairs buying up the delicious molluscs in bulk. And it seems the Irish have been doing so for millennia. Heaps of disposed shells have been found as far back as 5,000 years ago! Particularly delicious around Galway and Carlingford, connoisseurs look for native breeds, which are considered superior (and should always be enjoyed uncooked).
Try: “Dooncastle” Oysters at George V Dining Room.
Wonderfully thick and velvety in texture, Irish butter has long been a local speciality. Imported by the English, but also exported as far as India and Australia too, the superior flavour of Irish butter is mainly due to the superb way in which cows are raised on the Emerald Isle. Usually hormone and pesticide-free, the bovines live out their days walking on grass so green it almost glows.
If you’d like to sample fresh, seasonal Irish ingredients in person, head to Ashford Castle’s The Dungeon or George V Dining Room, or perhaps try Galway-native Jonathan Keane’s cooking at Wilde’s at The Lodge. Fancy finding your own dinner? Guests can even ask the chef to cook up their catch after a fishing trip on Lake Corrib.
Image Credits: George V Dining Room © Ashford Castle. Rib of Beef at George V Dining Room © Ashford Castle. Salmon © iStock/kajakiki. Lamb at George V Dining Room © Ashford Castle. Garlic © iStock/KaterinaGondova. Oysters © iStock/Adam Petto. Butter © iStock/lechatnoir. Feature Image Monkfish at George V Dining Room © Ashford Castle.