Coddle is made of potatoes (of course!), and usually some meat scraps, bacon, sausage, maybe Guinness and random root vegetables like onions and carrots. As with colcannon, boxty, champ, and other colorfully named Irish foods, coddle is what you make on the day after the big dinner the night before.
Coddle can be a kind of stew, or it can be served dry. It’s built on improvisation: you use what you have near at hand.
Coddle is a also traditional dish beloved by Irish authors like Jonathan Swift and James Joyce.
Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, I go to Oak Park’s Irish Shop to buy my favorite types of Irish Candy (Flake, Aero, etc.). This year I picked up some Irish bacon (cured pork loin rather than belly) and bangers. Bangers are another example of foods born of a privation period that have, over time, become beloved. During WWII, the Japanese mixed toasted rice with green tea to stretch their favorite beverage, and now they’re quite fond of genmaicha. During WWII in Great Britain, folks stretched their meat rations by adding to their sausage a good measure rusk (wheat or just biscuits, gone stale and crushed up). Now, those who know their bangers will feel they’re missing something if rusk isn’t in the mix. For the bangers I bought at the Irish Shop, rusk makes up 14%. The grain absorbs some of the meat fat, making the distinctive texture of the bangers more soft and lush than other sausages.
Coddle encourages creativity: you can add what you want, substituting ingredients at will. Our recipe called for Guinness, but we had a Porter from Revolution Brewery on hand, so that’s what we used. Not exactly a major creative variation, but it was good to know we could change up the classic recipe in any way we wanted. Got leftover cabbage, some Spam, a bit of lamb? It all goes in.
Our coddle was very simple: Irish bacon, bangers, potatoes, onions, scallions, salt and pepper, dark beer. Carolyn chopped and browned the bacon and bangers, then in a casserole, she put the meat on top containing roughly cut potatoes, onions, scallions, salt and pepper. The can of dark beer moistened it all. It all went into the oven, covered with aluminum foil, for an hour or so at 350.
Coddle is a very, very satisfying bowl of food, especially on cold or cool evenings; I had thirds.
We traditionally have corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, but corned beef, like St. Patrick’s Day itself, is more an American than an Irish thing. Says Donal Crosbie, previously of Dublin and now chef at Hudson Hound, a modern Irish restaurant in NYC, “Corned beef is pastrami; it was brought back to the country by Irish immigrants from their Jewish delis.”
In Ireland, instead of corned beef, it’s more likely Irish folks would be having lamb…or coddle…which is as close as anything to a national food of Ireland. It’s thus quite appropriate to consume on Eat Like an Irishman Day, which falls, unsurprisingly, on St. Patrick’s Day: March 17.