Pork Belly Cheese Burger with Champ and Irish Soda Bread
We just spent a week in Paris (and when I say we, I mean my husband and I, sans children), and it was heavenly. If you want to know more about that trip, check out the Burgers Here and There Facebook page. So we arrive home on Thursday and Friday I decide to make my Ireland burger. After spending a week eating really good French food, I admit that tackling the flavors of Ireland was a little tough to get excited about, but I find that pork belly is the great equalizer and can help me get excited about most anything.
So let’s talk about Ireland. Ireland is a Western European country and, according to CIA World Factbook occupies five sixths of the island of Ireland (the rest is Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom). Ireland withdrew completely from the British Commonwealth in 1949 and has been independent since then.
As I started writing this blog entry, I found one of the most interesting aspects of Irish history (at least for my purposes) was the potato famine. I started writing about the history of the potato and the famine and was having a great time when I realized that I had two pages of text and hadn’t remotely gotten to the story of my burger – re-write time! Given the elegant phrasing and seamless narrative that I’m so well know for, it may surprise you to know that I almost never re-write or even re-read (ok, none of you are surprised). I try to “keep it real” and just write what I think. But I’m pretty sure that few of you want to read a treatise on the history of the potato in Ireland. So I’ll sum up.
Potatoes were brought to Europe by the Spanish explorers who discovered them in the Andes Mountains in South America. Potatoes grow really well in Ireland and by 1844ish, the potato made up an estimated 80% of the caloric intake of the average Irishman. Potatoes are good food, Irish population swelled to 8 million. Then a nasty fungus made its way over from Mexico in 1845, no one knows how exactly, and decimated the almost every potato crop for the next four years, with continued effects for around 10 years. Roughly 1 million Irish died and another 1.5-2 million emigrated (mainly to the US). The British government didn’t help matters with their “relief” efforts (a whole other topic), and basically this episode in Irish history has a lot to do with the general feelings of mistrust and antipathy that the Irish have had for the British since then. Massive oversimplifications here – but you get the gist.
Potatoes are still important in Irish cuisine, so of course we included some potatoes in the dish. While there are a myriad ways to prepare potatoes in Irish cooking, mashed is one of the classics and still a favorite today. The most common recipes are colcannon (which is mashed potatoes with kale or some other green in them) or champ (which is mashed with spring onions). Since Irish mashed potatoes are generally made with just milk and butter, I elected to go with the champ version as onions would add a little more flavor and give the dish some zing. Beside which, it’s spring here, so I can get spring onions now.
But I didn’t want the potato to be the main starch – primarily because ever since I saw Monte make Irish soda bread on MasterChef, I have wanted to try it out myself – it looked so easy! And easy it is! Irish soda bread is so simple to make, I almost didn’t hate baking ☺ The resulting bread is denser than yeast bread, but delicious and, did I mention easy? I made a basic bread with no frills, you can also adapt this recipe and add fruit and sugar and make a sweet version. If you add raisins you’ve just made spotted dick, enough said….
So soda bread, champ, that should be enough starch for even me, now let’s move on to the meat. Ask any American for an Irish dish and most will answer corned beef and cabbage. The reality is that that’s the American version; the Irish version is boiled pork and cabbage. In fact pork is the most common meat consumed in Ireland. The Irish love pork, so I figured it was time to go “hog wild” and buy me some pork belly! This burger is simple, so it really needs good meat – I ground my own, but you can also ask the butcher to grind it for you. I went with a combo of pork cutlet, slab bacon and pork belly and the result was a richly piggy flavor.
I topped the whole thing with some yummy Irish cheddar, which tasted a lot like yummy Wisconsin cheddar, so just buy good cheddar and you’ll be fine. Which reminds me, I did take this opportunity to try Irish butter. I’ve seen Irish butter in the stores for ages, but never picked it up. Irish butter tastes pretty much like butter, really creamy rich butter – I like it. If you can’t find it, just buy good butter, but if you can find it, give Irish butter a try.
If you like the richness of this burger, you should try Czech Republic Burger, it’s another homey and tasty bit of meaty goodness.
¾ pound pork cutlet
¼ pound pork belly
¼ pound slab bacon
4 ounces Irish cheddar
Irish Soda Bread (recipe below)
4 Tablespoons course English mustard
Champ (recipe below)
4 teaspoons Irish butter
Chop the meat into cubes and place the meat in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Grind the meat on the fine setting of your meat grinder. Form into four patties. Put a little olive oil a cast iron pan and fry the patties until the pork is cooked through. Top with slices of cheddar about 2 minutes before the pork is done and cover so that the cheese melts. To serve, slice the bread in half through the width of the loaf then into quarters. Grill the bread lightly in the hot pan. On each quarter spread 1 Tablespoon of mustard then add a big dollop of champ, a pat of butter and the cooked burger patties.
Irish Soda Bread
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Sift the dry ingredients then add the buttermilk. Note: you can use dried buttermilk hydrated with water. Combine into a sticky dough then knead lightly. Lightly grease and flour a cake pan. Form the dough into a slightly flat round loaf. Put the loaf into the greased pan and cover with another cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes then remove top pan and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the loaf and place on wire rack to cool.
1 pound russet potatoes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 spring onion chopped (white and light green parts only)
½ cup milk
1 Tablespoon Irish butter
Peel and chop potatoes. Boil the potatoes with 1 teaspoon of salt until fork tender. While the potatoes are cooking put the milk and the onions into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove the milk from the heat. Drain the potatoes and mash with the butter and the milk and onion mixture, salt to taste.
©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach