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Chef Cathal Armstrong's Brine Recipe

Chef Cathal Armstrong's Brine Recipe


  • 1 cup salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 quarts hot water
  • ½ ounce Sel Rose
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 ounce fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 ounce rosemary
  • 6 bay leaves
  • One 4 pound-pork belly, rind removed


In a large stockpot, dissolve the salt and sugar in the hot water. Add the remaining ingredients and refrigerate, covered, for several hours until the brine is ice cold.

Then submerge the pork in the brine completely. Cover and refrigerate for 3 days.

Recipe Summary

  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oi
  • Two 1 1/4-pound whole branzino, cleaned and scaled
  • Salt
  • 4 garlic cloves&mdash2 chopped, 2 thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach

In a small saucepan, cook 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat until browned and nutty-smelling, about 6 minutes. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the stock, lemon juice, capers and Worcestershire. Stir in 5 tablespoons of the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Stir in the chives. Remove the sauce from the heat and keep warm.

In a very large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over moderately high heat until shimmering. Season the fish with salt and cook until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the fish and cook, basting with the oil in the skillet, until a small knife inserted in the center of the fish near the bone feels warm to the touch and the flesh is opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to the skillet along with the chopped garlic and thyme and continue basting for 30 seconds. Carefully transfer the fish to plates.

Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sliced garlic and season with salt. Spoon the spinach alongside the fish and serve with the sauce.

Brick Chicken

Recipe adapted from Cathal Armstrong, Virtue Feed & Grain, Alexandria, Virginia

Yield: Serves 2

Cook Time: 30 minutes


4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped, plus additional sprigs for garnish

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)

¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes

One 4-pound whole grass-fed chicken, butterflied (ask your butcher to do this for you)


1. Combine the garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, crushed red pepper and salt. Whisk in the olive oil. Rub two-thirds of the marinade all over the chicken and under the skin.

2. Prepare your grill for direct medium-low heat or heat a cast-iron pan over a medium-low flame. Place the chicken on the grill or pan skin side down. Place a foil-wrapped brick or a heavy cast-iron skillet on top of the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the brick and turn the chicken over. Place the brick on the chicken again and continue to grill until the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a platter and drizzle with the remaining marinade. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and serve.

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Cathal's Favorite Salad

Preheat the oven to 450°. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about 45 minutes, until tender. Let cool slightly, then slip off the skins. Quarter the beets.

In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Let stand off the heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain and transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel and quarter the eggs.

In a skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds over low heat, stirring, until they are golden, about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk the sherry vinegar with the mustard. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine the beets, avocado and onion. Add 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper and toss gently. Transfer the salad to plates. Add the eggs and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Wipe out the bowl. Add the lettuce, scallions and the remaining vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper and toss. Mound the greens on the vegetables, garnish with the pumpkin seeds and serve.

Cathal Armstrong Interview | Best Rising Star Chef December 2007

When did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a best chef?
Cathal Armstrong: It was an accidental job. I was washing dishes as a college job, one of the best chefs got sick and they asked me to cover for him. He never came back and I stayed on.

Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire the best chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
Cathal Armstrong: Culinary School is a great platform from which to start your career. You will get out of it what you put into it. When it comes to hiring, the most important thing for me is restaurant experience and attitude. I only hire people that I feel I might enjoy working with.

Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
Cathal Armstrong: Chef Greggory Hill of David*Gregory, formerly of New Heights, introduced me to the fundamentals and Jeffrey Buben of Bistro Bis and Vidalia taught me how to run a restaurant.

What is your philosophy on food and dining?
Cathal Armstrong: Getting the food from the vine to the plate as quickly as possible, focusing and concentrating their flavors.

Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
Cathal Armstrong: I like working with pork fat. It is very versatile, palatable when hot or cold, and it adds moisture and flavor.

What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
Cathal Armstrong: I love my meat grinder. We do a lot of charcuterie in the restaurant and it ís one of the most fun branches of cooking. Of course I couldn’t live without my best chef’s knife.

What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
Cathal Armstrong: I look at how they present themselves. I want to know that a person is serious about work and dedicated to staying in the kitchen.

What are your favorite cookbooks?
Cathal Armstrong: Letters to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud and The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. I make all my staff read best chef Boulud’s book. I am grateful to best chef Keller for writing down so many of the rules we use in the kitchen every day.

What cities do you like for culinary travel?
Cathal Armstrong: I’ve been to California twice which I liked, and I was in Paris, Rome and Barcelona when I was first married.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
Cathal Armstrong: Hopefully at the stove at Restaurant Eve. I’d like to open an artisanal butcher shop and bakery as well.

Meet The Chef: Cathal Armstrong

Cathal Armstrong was born in Dublin in 1969, which, consequently, makes him the same age as my husband (though his birthday is a few months before Adam’s). He’s one of six kids, which, consequently (and please don’t have a coronary), is the same number of kids my husband and I would like to have.

Armstrong says he grew up in a “food-centric Irish family.” Dinner consisted of multiple courses, often showcasing his favorite: rack of lamb.

“While other families hurriedly scarfed down fish fingers in front of the telly, we Armstrongs languished over three- and four-course meals. That’s probably why I never got As in school—I didn’t have enough time to study because we were too busy eating dinner all night,” Armstrong said.

The chef’s father was an avid gardener, growing some sixty kinds of fruits and vegetables on their property that the kids were responsible for tending to. He was the one that cooked for the household, though his mother was known for her baking skills (much like our Sarah of Troy, whose recent kitchen renovation includes a double oven, thus enabling her to make two batches of cookies simultaneously!)

From a very young age, Armstrong was introduced to diverse cuisine. His father, a tour operator, would whisk the family away to Greece, Spain and Tunisia, which translated into couscous, moussaka, rabbit paella and Valencia chicken. At seven, he was shipped off to France during the summers, where he learned the language … and the food: chocolate, croissants, baguettes, foie gras, fresh mussels and oysters, Brittany butter and Normandy apples.

His life took a twist as he went on to study computer programing, but Armstrong soon fell in love with working in restaurants. It was a part time dish washing job at Da Vincenzo’s pizza joint in Dublin that he took on during school where “the thought of cooking professionally took root.”

“The heat, the chaos, the camaraderie, hanging out until the wee hours of the morning, rolling pizza dough, going to the clubs on Leeson Street and drinking cheap wine until the sun came up—it was all just so intoxicating,” he said. “I woke up in class one day and decided it was time for me to quit school.”

He took that job on full time, learning the ins and outs of the kitchen, and beginning to see himself as a chef. After a short time, his father helped him launch his own restaurant—The Baytree—in a suburb of Dublin called Monkstown. His fare? Classic French cuisine. It wasn’t going well, and on the day Dublin’s most revered food critic planned to dine, Armstrong had decided not to bother opening at all … opting for a visit to the pub instead. The next day, the review in the paper read: “The Baytree was mysteriously closed.”

The restaurant closed within ten months.

A year later, he landed in the United States, broke and confused about what was next. He got a job in Washington, D.C., at an Irish pub named Murphy’s. He progressed quickly from there, to New Heights and the now-defunct Cities. That’s where he met his wife, Meshelle. Next it was Gabriel, then Washington, D.C.’S acclaimed Vidalia, where he worked under Chef Jeffrey Buben.

Armstrong says Buben taught him the discipline which allowed his knowledge of French cuisine to truly blossom.

“Vidalia was a whole new world, and a much more challenging kitchen than any other I had ever worked in. At a rapid pace, an education was forced upon me. To say that Buben was a taskmaster and a tough person to work for would be a gross understatement.”

But the hard work paid off, and he soon found himself at nearby Bistros Bis, cooking for the likes of Julia Child … who returned to dine again the same week, this time with Chef Jaques Pépin (oh, how I love thee … let me count the ways!) It was at Bis where he learned the ins and out of managing a restaurant, and thus the it became the launching pad for Restaurant Eve, a fine-dining establishment in Alexandria, Virginia, which he opened with wife Meshelle in 2004. The restaurant demonstrates Armstrong’s commitment to, and love of, fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. That’s reflected in the garden he’s planted at the restaurant—a reminder of the family tradition started by his father.

The food is divine, I assure you, which explains why in 2006, Food & Wine magazine named Armstrong one of the ten best new chefs in the United States.

Photography credit: Scott Suchman © 2014

So why are we talking about chef Cathal Armstrong—aside from his heritage—to cap off our month on the Emerald Isle? It’s a sweet little cookbook called My Irish Table, chock full of recipes from both his homeland and Restaurant Eve.

Irish food is about so much more than potatoes, though the scalloped version on the advanced reader’s copy made my mouth water. The book is broken down into user-friendly topics that include Irish breakfasts (tomatoes three ways, orange marmalade and pork loin bacon—’cause you know how bacon-obsessed we are around here!) and “Fridays Are For Fish” (Pan-Roasted Loin of Monkfish with Fava Bean, Mussels, and Bacon Ragout … or how about Salt-Baked Dublin Bay Prawns with Ailoi? We love anything baked in salt!)

There’s an entire chapter on Special Occasions, and another on Brine, Stocks, Sauces, and Relishes. The chapter of Restaurant Eve favorites made me want to get out my roasting pans for Pork Belly with Braised Cabbage and Poached Apples … or get out my phone and make a reservation (primarily because we’ve just moved and our stove isn’t working yet, anyway.) I don’t want Adam to cry since he still has a week to go until he can have Irish Coffee again, but there’s a recipe for that, too.

And oh … the sweets section! Complete with Custard, Mincemeat … and Pineapple Upside Down Cake—one of my faves.

Here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for a good story, and I love the one Armstrong has told here through his personal recollections, intimate family photos and page upon page of delicious food. It’s a great cookbook, and one I highly suggest adding to your collection—if not for the gorgeous Shepherd’s Pie alone.

And lest we forget a nod to the chef’s fave, here’s the recipe for his aforementioned fave—rack of lamb—from My Irish Table.

As Julie Child would say (over and over if Cathal Armstrong was cooking) … Bon Appétit!

Pan-Roasted Rack of Lamb with Rosemary Jus

Photography credit: Scott Suchman © 2014

Reprinted with permission from My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.

Chef Armstrong’s Note: A special treat for me is rack of lamb, so rich and luxurious. The most common way to prepare it is to sear it and finish it in the oven, which is fine. My preferred method is stove-top pan-roasting. (See On Pan-Roasting, page 118.) Be sure to begin with an untrimmed rack if you prefer for your butcher to French it, ask him to give you all the meat scraps, which you need for the glace (a concentrated meat jus) that is the base for the sauce accompanying this dish. When you buy lamb racks out of the meat case of a grocery store, they are usu- ally trimmed of the fat and shoulder meat. For this reason, it is best to buy the lamb from a butcher. Today I can’t imagine eating the frozen corn on the cob I requested when growing up. As side dishes, I’d recommend Roasted Potatoes (page 182), Creamed Leeks (page 171), and “Marrowfat” Peas (page 172).

Serves 4 to 6

Lamb Rack
2 (8-bone, 41/2-pound) racks of lamb, chine bones removed by your butcher
6 tablespoons canola oil, plus more as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Lamb Glace
1 tablespoon canola oil
Lamb scraps (reserved from the whole rack)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup lamb demi-glace (page 244)
10 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 sprig fresh rosemary
1 large fresh bay leaf

2 teaspoons cold unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon blanched and finely chopped rosemary leaves (see Notes on Herbs, page 64)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

French the racks: Using a boning knife, pull the fat cap off of each rack, trimming the racks down to their loin centers, known as the racks’ eyes. Using a boning knife, remove the shoulder blades from the fat caps and set them aside. Cut out and save any meat in the fat caps, trimming it into approximately 1-inch scraps. French the racks by cutting away all of the meat around and between the ribs to completely denude the bones down to the eyes. Use the butt-end of the knife to scrape any fat or membrane left on the bones. Set all the scraps aside. Discard the fat.

Make lamb glace: In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the 1 tablespoon canola oil until it shimmers. Add the trimmed meat scraps, distributing them evenly over the bottom of the pan let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Turn the scraps over and sear for 2 to 3 minutes more until well browned. Stir in the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Add the wine and use a flat-edged wooden spatula to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until most of the wine has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the demi-glace, thyme and rosemary sprigs, and bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, skimming often to remove the impurities and fat that rise to the surface. Strain the glace through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring cup and reserve.

Cook the lamb: In a large slope-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the 6 tablespoons canola oil until it shimmers. Season the racks well with salt and pepper and sear them, starting with the flesh sides down, for 2 minutes. Turn the racks over and sear for 2 more minutes. Using a meat fork to hold them in place, sear the racks for 2 minutes on both ends. Lower the heat to medium and start a process of cooking and basting the racks, turning them over and over, first on one side, then the other and on both ends, tilting the pan slightly so your spoon can scoop up the oil to baste with. Continue the process of turning and basting for about 15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the cen- ter of a rack and pressed against your lip feels warm. (If the oil begins to blacken during the process, pour it off and replace it with fresh oil.)

Add the final seasoning: As soon as the lamb is done, quickly add the 2 teaspoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic, and 2 teaspoons of chopped thyme to the pan and baste the racks quickly for several seconds, taking care to cook the garlic but not burn it, adjusting the heat if neces- sary. Transfer the racks to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes.

Make the jus: Heat 1 teaspoon of the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it bubbles. Add the shallots and let them sweat for 1 minute until translucent. Stir in the reserved lamb glace and bring to a boil. Whisk in the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter and the rosemary, salt, and pepper. Keep warm over very low heat.

Present the dish: Transfer the sauce to a small pitcher or gravy boat. Carve the racks into chops and arrange them on a warm serving platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the chops, and serve with your chosen side dishes.

On Pan-Roasting

Searing and finishing in the oven is a common way to cook small items, like a steak, a piece of fish, a chunk of pork belly, or a rack of lamb, but not neces- sarily the ideal method of preparation. The method of pan-roasting I employ yields more consistent and often better results, which is why it is a preferred method in some of the world’s best kitchens.

With pan-roasting, all the work is done on the stove top. You use a fair amount of oil and cook the items over medium to medium-high heat, turning them frequently and continually basting them with the hot oil so they cook and brown evenly. The technique requires a bit of dexterity and patience, but what you

wind up with is more succulent because the cook- ing is more even. The heat source is direct instead of emanating from the bottom of the oven. As you go through the process, the oil may burn. It can be a challenge to maintain the heat in such a way to keep that from happening it takes a little practice. Should the oil burn, simply dispose of it, wipe the pan clean, and continue with fresh oil.

Adding garlic and herbs for the final stage of basting imparts an extra level of complexity that you don’t get from oven roasting. The flavor-infused oil finds its way into the meat or fish but remains forward on the palate.

Irish chef Cathal Armstrong cooking up a storm in Washington, D.C.

The normally unflappable chef remembers the day when Julia Child turned up unannounced. He was working at Bistro Bis, a popular brasserie on Capitol Hill.

“I had nothing ready,” Armstrong says. “So I cooked for her off the cuff.”

A certain gleefulness enters his voice as he recalls that she came back the next day with celebrity chef Jacques Pépin and signed a book for him. “To Cathal, a great chef,” it read. “From Julia, a home cook.”

That was seven years ago, before Armstrong and his wife and business partner Meshelle had opened his first of three restaurants in Virginia.

The Armstrongs and partner Todd Thrasher also own and operate Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper PX, the upstairs speakeasy lounge and the historic eatery the Majestic, all within five blocks from Restaurant Eve.

Sitting at a table at Restaurant Eve, a quaint yet sophisticated 100 seat dining experience located in Old Town, Alexandria, Armstrong talks about some of the celebrities he has cooked for.

He cooked a private dinner for George W. Bush in the White House residence, and hosted a fundraiser at the Majestic “for a very little known senator from Illinois about two years ago, at the beginning of a presidential campaign.” Michelle Obama came back to eat there once she was first lady.

His favorite guest to cook for, however, was the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who he cooked for “at least 100 times at Bistro Bis.” As soon as Kennedy heard Armstrong’s accent, he realized he started introducing him to all of his Senate friends as “our chef.”

“He liked his liver and onions,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong grew up in a suburb of Dublin called Killiney, “Which is where Bono's house is, actually,” he notes with a chuckle. “But we didn't live in that neighborhood. We lived on the other side of town.”

He went to a small, all Gaelic-speaking school, played hurling for the Dublin minors and moved to the United States in 1990, just two weeks short of his 21st birthday. He landed a job at Murphy's Irish Pub in Woodley Park, and the plan was to “earn some fast cash and get out of the restaurant business” and head back to London to attend culinary school.

“That was about 19 years ago,” laughs the man who got his U.S. citizenship about five years ago but still thinks in Irish.

Armstrong describes his life as the “quintessential American dream story.” He applied for a green card in the Morrison visa lottery, eventually landing one of the visas aimed directly at Irish immigrants.

It would not be the only time his Irish heritage would help him out. He met his wife when he was making pizzas part time at a restaurant she managed, and they “went out dancing one night and one thing led to another.”

“The movie The Commitments had just come out and she had just seen it, and everybody was all enthralled with Irish at the time and horses in elevators and that sort of thing,” Armstrong says. “So I think she was a little smitten with me because of the movie.

Now his wife, who was born in the Philippines, is “close enough to Irish citizenship,” and Armstrong is teaching his young kids, Eve, 10, and Eamonn, seven, a few Irish words.

“Seas suas,” he says in an airy accent. “Stand up.”

“They're good words to start with kids,” he says, erupting into that easy smile of his.

Talking to Armstrong is bit like pulling up a stool at your local pub and lucking into good company -- there is a passion and excitement underlying everything he says, especially when he's talking now about his own early and unlikely introduction to food.

His dad was a tour operator, and had people working for him “who lived in Benidorm, the Canary Island and Costa Rica and Costa Brava, Tunisia and Greece.”

His father, “a great natural cook and a hobby gardener,” was always learning from his friends how to cook paella and couscous and “all this crazy stuff no one in Ireland ate.”

“We would be sitting at the table on six out of seven nights, and he'd say, 'No one in Ireland is eating this dish,' and it was true,” Armstrong says.

Even the fish they ate on Fridays, “because that was the Catholic rule,” received special treatment. “My friends, all of them, had frozen fish fingers,” he says.

“But that would be sacrilegious to my father who went to the fish market on Friday to buy fresh fish, caught from the sea that day.”

Armstrong has stayed true to his father's ideal.

“Cathal Armstrong really cares about the provenance of the food he serves at Restaurant Eve,” says food priestess and Chez Panisse impresario Alice Waters. “He serves local, organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, and even has a kitchen garden growing out back.”

Waters came to Washington, D.C. shortly after Obama's inauguration. She came to visit the gardens at Monticello and also cut a straight path across the Potomac to Armstrong’s Restaurant Eve, in Alexandria, Virginia’s Old Town.

In addition to the garden, Armstrong has a 34-seat tasting room which features a five and nine course prix-fix tasting menu which reads like a what's-what of fresh, local and seasonal creations paired with and inventive cocktails from sommelier and resident mixologist Todd Thrasher.

Armstrong focuses on dishes that the restaurant does really well, with produce provided by local farmers. He throws in the occasional “aggressive dish” like sweetbreads or skate. The food also reflects his mood.

“If I'm angry you can tell,” he laughs.

“Angry dishes” usually include more vinegar and olive oil, he explains. It is nothing intentional, but his feelings just pour over into his food.

“The sea is calm this evening,” he assures.

Invariably the conversation turns back to Ireland. The words flow in almost complete, uninterrupted paragraphs.

“It's an agriculturally wealthy, wealthy county,” he says, picking up speed. “The reason it's so green is the mild weather and the rain. But because of that, you have grass growing, so you can raise amazing beef and amazing lamb.

“It's an island so it has some of the most amazing seafood you can find anywhere in the world. And again, because of the temperate climate, you can grow crops year round outside. So there is a wide, wide range of amazing foods available. We've seen cheeses like Ardrahan, equal to if not better than some of the best cheese made in the world.”

Armstrong is talking about the semi-soft cow's milk cheese from Co. Cork, with its earthy undertones and zesty tang, which he serves in his restaurants.

“I don't show them just because they're Irish,” Armstrong says. “I show them because they're Irish and they're that good.”

His restaurant Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper, is an Irish pub thru-and-thru, from the fresh fish and hand-cut chips down to the “mushy peas” and Irish sodas and candies.

“We make all our own bacon in the Irish style here,” he says. “It's brine cured pork so it's pink all the way through, and we do this really great sandwich for lunch. It's an Irish B.L.T. It's really delicious. It's like a rasher sandwich.”

He uses “subtle hints of Irish ingredients,” the Kerrygold butter, the artisanal cheeses like Ardrahan and Cashel Blue, and he also makes his own versions of Irish specialties like white pudding and black pudding, but Restaurant Eve is “definitely an American restaurant, and I'm proud it's an American restaurant.”

It is also a showcase for the best of what Ireland has to offer. It combines everything he loves about his two countries. And that mix is what attracted him to America in the first place.

It's kind of corny,” Armstrong says. “I was born in Ireland but I was made in the USA.”

Black pudding and onions

From My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedorn

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  • Categories: Appetizers / starters Snacks Irish
  • Ingredients: pork blood panko breadcrumbs pork fat milk pearl barley rolled oats ground cloves ground ginger nutmeg white pepper sausage casings French bread veal demiglace thyme crusty bread onions

Cathal Armstrong: “My Irish Table”

Ask any St. Patrick’s Day reveler what constitutes a proper Irish meal, and meat, potatoes and stew might come to mind first. But that meat-and-potatoes-heavy image has undergone a quiet Celtic conversion in the past two decades under a new breed of creative chefs. Leading the pack is Cathal Armstrong, whose focus on fresh, local ingredients has both redefined American cuisine and the traditional dishes of his native Ireland. We rediscover Irish cuisine with Armstrong just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.


  • Cathal Armstrong Owner and Chef, Restaurant Eve (Alexandria, VA) Author, "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" Founder, Chefs as Parents

Cathal Armstrong’s St. Patrick’s Day Recipes

Reprinted with permission from “My Irish Table” by Cathal Armstrong, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography credit: Scott Suchman © 2014

Chef Cathal Armstrong On St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

Armstrong talks about what he sees as some American misconceptions surrounding Irish food and chats about the kind of food his family ate in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.

Cathal Armstrong Demonstrates How To Cook Brined Pork Belly

Armstrong cooks brined pork belly with thyme and garlic, served with pea shoots, kumquats, smoked onions, and sunchokes. After the meat has been brining for several days, he cooks the pork skin until crispy and adds the spring vegetables, emphasizing that the dish represents a transition between winter and early spring.



MS. JEN GOLBECK From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, ask any St. Patrick's Day reveler what foods define Irish cuisine, and you'll probably get a list of the usual suspects, stew, soda bread, corn beef and cabbage, and the ubiquitous potato. It's a meaty list of comfort foods that doesn't seem to leave much room for creativity.


MS. JEN GOLBECK But Ireland's reputation as a place for pub grub and Guinness has undergone quite a Celtic conversion in the past decade or so, thanks to a renewed focus on fresh local ingredients and contemporary takes on traditional foods. Leading that charge is one of the Emerald Isle's most celebrated culinary experts, Chef Cathal Armstrong.


MS. JEN GOLBECK He's an internationally acclaimed chef who's made his mark on American and international cuisine from tables at his quaint Restaurant Eve in Alexandria to Capitol Hill to the White House and beyond. But at heart he's an Irishman, and in his first cookbook, he celebrates the bounty of his homeland just in time for St. Patrick's Day. Chef Cathal Armstrong joins us in the studio. He's owner and chef of six restaurants, including Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, and he's the author of "My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve." It's good to have you here.


MR. CATHAL ARMSTRONG It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.


GOLBECK So this is your first cookbook, which you wrote with the help from food writer David Hagedorn, and it's one that you say is a culinary coming-of-age story. So I'd love to start out by talking about your upbringing in Ireland and how that influenced your career path. You say that food in your household in Dublin started with your father who took a lot of pride in cooking. So tell us about him.


ARMSTRONG Yeah, my dad is a great cook, great natural talent and a great sense of how food feels, you know, which is once you get that thing under your skin where you actually sense the food. And I think he has that naturally more than anybody that I think I've ever met in my life, which is really odd for an Irishman in that era, you know.


ARMSTRONG None of my friends' fathers cooked. Only the mother cooked, and it was like the -- everybody had stay-at-home moms in those days. And it was always the mothers that did the cooking. So, you know, he was a unique man and a very, very strong, dominant personality. He -- in addition to cooking, he's a hobby gardener and with great success grew as much as he could for fun, literally hundreds of things out of the garden. And then the third piece of that puzzle was that he was a tour operator in Europe selling the package holidays.



ARMSTRONG So he had a tremendous -- probably more connection to the European countries than most of the Irish families would have had in those days. So, you know, we had strong connections to Spain and Tunisia and to Greece and France, and, you know, so access to foods that nobody else in Ireland was eating.


GOLBECK So what were meals like for your family in Dublin with all these international influences and a garden? Can you describe a typical meal that you remember from your childhood?


ARMSTRONG I mean, dinner was always a big affair for us. You know, we were a big Catholic family, six kids, and you were expected to be at the dinner table regardless of the circumstances with the one exception of participating in a sporting event, because we were always mad sports fanatics. And in fact my mother is the world's number one sports fanatic.


ARMSTRONG Like, she'll watch anything. But, you know, so everyone was at the dinner table. And dinner's always, you know, usually 6:00, 6:30. And a three-course meal would be typical. I don't think we ever went a day without something for dessert. And.


GOLBECK My kind of household.



ARMSTRONG And everybody had their place, and, you know, we all sat in our own particular place at the table. You were not permitted to leave anything on the plate. So you ate what you got, and you were glad of it, except once. One time Dad cooked tripe, and it was a disaster.



ARMSTRONG He'll admit it himself. And, you know, I think he cooked it for 30 minutes when you really need to cook it for about 30 hours. And it was completely inedible, so we went out for dinner that night, which was exceptionally unusual for us. We never ate out.


GOLBECK So when the chef knows he screwed up, then everybody benefits, or at least doesn't suffer.



GOLBECK So were other Irish households having these three and four-course dinners when you were?


ARMSTRONG Not at all. Not at all. When I was about 6 years old, due to a small tragedy that we don't need to get into on this show, we -- I was at a friend's house in the neighborhood for dinner. And they all sat around on the floor having TV dinner.



ARMSTRONG . Bird's Eye cob, frozen fish fingers, which, you know, would never, ever happen in our -- like, we weren't allowed to watch television during dinner because it was that, you know, sacrosanct of an event. And except in the rare, rare occasion where there was a big sporting event that had to be watched and couldn't be missed, then the TV got dragged into the kitchen rather than having dinner be dragged into the living room.


ARMSTRONG You know, but, like, it was such a tremendous experience because the conversations around those tables, around those dinners about the world and society and school and, you know, everything that was going on in everybody's life was just a huge part of our education that is, you know, sadly missed, I think, in a lot of families nowadays.


GOLBECK And this is the same argument that you hear now Americans making about bringing people back to the dinner table and not watching TV and having those conversations.


ARMSTRONG Yeah, no doubt. I mean, it is a tremendous important part of the family unit. And, you know, we, I think, for a period, we've kind of gotten the sense that when you send your kids to the school where there are teachers, then they come back educated, right?



ARMSTRONG But that's only part of their education. Math is only part of the education of a human being, and there's so much more to it than that.


GOLBECK Yeah. You can also join our conversation. Is your family Irish? Do you have favorite recipes that have been passed down through the generations? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at [email protected] You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. So at the age of 7, you were shipped off to get your first taste of continental cuisine. How did living in France at such a young age shape you and shape your palate?


ARMSTRONG Funny thinking back on those times, like, imagine sending a child, a 7-year-old child alone on an airplane to a foreign country where the language is different. And I try to think of what it was like arriving in Orly in the airport outside of Paris and at 7 years of age, having no clue about anything.


GOLBECK Did you speak any French?


ARMSTRONG No. No, not a word. But somehow I made it, and I stayed with this great family, the Boudain family, in an area just outside of Paris called (unintelligible). And they, you know, like a typical French family, had a four-course meal for dinner every day. But four courses, you know -- like, one of the courses might have been yogurt with a little bit of sugar sprinkled over it or a piece of fruit.


ARMSTRONG But it was a distinct four-course meal for just normal family dinner every day, all, you know, the same natural food that we were getting in our house. And, you know, it was literally the worst of times and the best of times.


ARMSTRONG I remember crying my eyes out as a little kid for my poor mammy, you know, and.



ARMSTRONG But the first year, I went for, I think, about two weeks. And then by the end, after, you know, seven or eight or nine years of going there every summer, I was there for the whole summer and had such a blast. And it was a -- you know, they, like every French family, took summer vacation around France, so we would visit different areas, like (unintelligible) and Lourdes and up to the Alps and (unintelligible) and Brittany, and just by their nature, we were eating pots of mussels straight from the Atlantic Ocean.


ARMSTRONG I mean, it was just a tremendous, tremendous experience. And without even knowing it, you get this stuff being fed into the brain that becomes your experiences and makes you part of who you are later on in life.


GOLBECK And that's a really interesting way to get a tour of a lot of different kinds of cuisine, even if you're just staying in France, right?


ARMSTRONG Yeah, absolutely.


GOLBECK Yeah. So you're well known for your emphasis on locally-sourced, homegrown ingredients and your love of horticulture. You have a garden at Restaurant Eve, right?


ARMSTRONG We do. We're fortunate to have a little walled garden that sees the morning sun, which I'm told is the most important sun for growing plants. And we're able to grow things -- 'cause the garden is walled in, we're able to grow things that may not typically do as well in this area. When I bought bay bushes for the garden, the garden center said, you know, these won't survive in this climate, right? But they've been there for almost 10 years, and they're flourishing, you know. And, I mean, they're struggling -- the winter was a little harsher this year than we've had.



ARMSTRONG But they're -- you know, they're doing fine. And it's the walled garden that really helps protect them.


GOLBECK It'll be interesting to see how all that comes back. I have a lot of herbs and bees in my own garden, and none of them have made it very well through the winter. So, hopefully, the spring will bring us some new things.


ARMSTRONG I hope so. We're ready for spring.


GOLBECK Yeah. A lot of people might think that the meat-heavy Irish diet is a pretty unhealthy one. As you focus on fresh, healthy eating, have you had to rethink some of the ingredients to some of those traditional Irish dishes?


ARMSTRONG Well, not necessarily. I mean, I think, you know, we had great opportunity with the process of this cookbook to kind of investigate the food of Ireland and looking at how modern cuisines have developed, how the modern American cuisine developed, how the modern French cuisine, how the modern Irish cuisine developed using ingredients that are indigenous to its locale.


ARMSTRONG And, you know, there are a lot of misunderstandings about Ireland. The first one is that its latitude is the same as Newfoundland. So you have one area on the west of the Atlantic Ocean that's frozen most of the year, and then -- and a small island on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean that -- where the seas never freeze because of the effect of the Gulf stream running across North Atlantic keeps the climate moderate, temperate. So Ireland is actually green 365 days of the year, pretty much.


GOLBECK A beautiful green, yeah.


ARMSTRONG Right. And many, many shades of green. So, you know, they have grass for grazing cattle and sheep year-round, which is a tremendous advantage to the dairy market, to the beef market. And, you know, then we can also grow vegetables, produce, year-round outside, the hardy vegetables that can stand the cold of the winter, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts and cabbage and all those Brassicas that do really well in the winter months. And then -- but then it's also forgotten that Ireland is a tiny little island that's surrounded by rich, rich seas that are filled with some of the best oysters.



ARMSTRONG . the best lobster, the Dublin Bay prawn, which is one of the most exquisite luxury products that you can find. If you're lucky enough to be in Ireland, make sure you get the Dublin Bay prawns. You know, so the cuisine never really flourished because of its history, because of its association with Britain and that we were occupied by Britain for about 400 years.



ARMSTRONG And so you kind of forget that all this raw material is there to make this amazing food. So it isn't really just about boil the hell out of it, you know, which is kind of considered to be the Irish cooking technique for years. And, you know, it is a cool, moderate climate, so these braised meat dishes that we see, the stews and the, you know, the Irish stew and the beef stew and that kind of thing are -- they make sense in that climate. They may not make sense to us here in the summer months, but they definitely make sense in the climate of Ireland.


GOLBECK Right. We have an email from Sarah in Alexandria who wants to know what your favorite meal or food was as a child.


ARMSTRONG Still to this day, my favorite thing to eat is rack of lamb. I love lamb chops. And Michelle, my wife, hates it, so we never get to eat it at my house. And any time I go home, it's the first thing they cook for us, you know, and, you know, when I go home alone. When Michelle comes with me, they have to do something else. But the lamb, you know, grass-fed lamb, which is coming to American fairly soon, is absolutely fantastic.


GOLBECK We're talking with Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing us at [email protected] We'll continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.


GOLBECK Welcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck, from the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with Cathal Armstrong about Irish cooking. You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing us at [email protected] What makes a good cook, do you think? Practice, instinct or creativity? Have you been to any of Cathal Armstrong's restaurants, and where did you go and what did you taste? We have lots of callers and emails. And I'm going to start with Calpana, calling us from Dublin. Go ahead, you're on the air.


CALPANA Thank you. Hi. I am actually a D.C. transplant to Dublin, Ireland.


GOLBECK I didn't think you were from Ireland, as soon as you started talking.


CALPANA (unintelligible) give away. But I've lived here for a couple years and I find the food scene here really interesting. Dublin, in particular, has a really international feel, a lot more immigrants from all over the world. I'm just curious what kind of influences Cathal is taking from sort of the contemporary food scene here in Ireland. And as you say, it's got great ingredients. The cheeses alone, you know, you could eat them every day of the year. And I'm just wondering what kinds of influences you're taking back to my poor Americans that I've left behind.


ARMSTRONG How are you? Good morning, still -- I think it's afternoon here. Yeah, finally. Every time I go to Dublin I always stop into l'Ecrivain and Chapter One there. Still my two favorite restaurants. And Derry Clarke and Ross Lewis I think have kind of been on the forefront for a number of years, on the Irish modern cooking movement. And there are lots more coming and around the country.


ARMSTRONG A couple of years ago I was in Gregans Castle in Clare and had an absolutely fantastic meal there. I always hit Sheridans, the cheesemongers. And look for the Irish cheeses particularly. And I smuggled a bunch into New York City once. But it's great seeing ingredients, like the Clonakilty Blackpudding and the cheeses that you mentioned and the salmon and all these great artisanal ingredients that are being produced in Ireland, on these fine dining menus. And they're always inspirational. The hard part for us is sometimes getting the ingredients here, but you have to figure out how to make your own black pudding. There's a good recipe for it in the book.


GOLBECK Thanks very much for you call, Calpana.



GOLBECK Let's take one more call. From Marie, in McLean, Va. Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead.


MARIE Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I've been to the Restaurant Eve. It's a great restaurant. I love it. I really didn't know that the chef there was Irish. So this is even better. I was wondering -- my mother was born and raised in Liverpool, England. And it has a huge Irish population. And a lot of the cooking she did growing up here in America, when she came here in her 20s, she kind of Americanized a lot of what she would call an Irish dish or an English dish. Do you find that in Ireland they're Americanizing a lot of their dishes?


ARMSTRONG Not in Ireland so much. The Irish is one of those little tiny countries that is like the mass that roared, you know. And they're very strong about their culture and their nature and their language. We have to protect our language very carefully there. So you tend to see the Irish being very protective of their own heritage. There used to be a Tex-Mex restaurant in Dublin, which was so bizarre to find Tex-Mex in Dublin. But I think they've still been very careful about their own dishes and maintaining them true to their heritage and what they were designed for.


GOLBECK So you mentioned black pudding. And I think Irish puddings are where a lot of people put down the fork when tackling Irish cuisine and Irish breakfast. So start by telling us the difference between white pudding and black pudding.


ARMSTRONG Okay. So white pudding is a course sausage that's poached. And it usually has a couple of different textures, with how you grind the meat. So you have a fine grind and a course grind and then they get mixed together. And then it gets emulsified in a food processor so you have that kind of smooth texture to it. Different herbs and spices go into it, depending on whose family is coming up with it. And some people put oatmeal, some people other grains into it to give it their own take on what they want their white pudding to be. But it's all ground pork.


ARMSTRONG And then black pudding is made from blood. So they add fat poached pork fat to it and some people add oatmeal. Some people don't. Again, some spices. It's pretty heady with clove in it. And so you mix all that together and then you put that into a sausage casing and you poach it. And it comes out. You know, an acquired taste, but it has a distinct texture.


GOLBECK So it's definitely not something the average American will have encountered in their eating here. Can you convince some Americans that it's worth trying to acquire that taste?


ARMSTRONG It's only for the brave. I mean, I love it. I love black pudding, but it is definitely, you know, even in Ireland there are definitely two groups. There are the black pudding eaters and the ones that don't, you know.


GOLBECK Right. You can join us. What are your favorite Irish dishes? Do you have specific Irish food that you serve on St. Patrick's Day? You can call 1-800-433-8850 or email us at [email protected] So let's go back to your past a little bit because that's a big part of the book. You mentioned that your dad is a tour operator. And so that really had the opportunity for you to be exposed to many other countries. Did all of the children in your family travel together, first off?


ARMSTRONG Yeah, so, in brief, the way the tour operator works is he buys chunks of hotel rooms and then chunks of seats on airplanes and they put that into a package and they make a brochure out of it and then they try to sell it to people. And because we were fortunate enough to be in that business, there'd be an occasion where everything wasn't sold and we'd be sitting at the table having dinner on Friday night and dad would say, "Do you want to go to Portugal tomorrow?" And we'd go, "Okay." And off we went.


GOLBECK Sounds pretty nice.


ARMSTRONG Right. It was a blast, you know. And that happened to us quite often. And the original package holiday business really was Spain and the Coast Del Sol and Majorca. And then it expanded to Ibiza and the Canary Islands, and then they went out to Tunisia and Greece and, you know, expanding further and further to try and escape the crowds. And we ended up in these exotic places.


ARMSTRONG One of the cool things about it was that my dad would have representatives in the areas where they were selling the package holidays. So if there was something having a holiday in Alicante and they needed something for any reason, he would call Ramiro and Ramiro would go down and help them out. So on the times when we would all go visit them we would end up in Ramiro's house…



ARMSTRONG …with his grandmother. You know, digging a hole in the ground to cook the paella.

Watch the video: Cathal Armstrong Cooks Brined Pork Belly (January 2022).