Myrtle Allen is credited with inspiring innovation in Irish kitchens

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Myrtle Allen opened The Yeats Room in her home in Ireland 50 years ago. Her simple and superb cooking inspired the innovation of contemporary Irish cuisine.

I feel like I’ve found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and grocery ads are priming us for corned beef and cabbage. Somehow that just doesn’t signal celebration to me this year. No matter how much I try I can’t spin the old corned beef into fun and festive faire.

Surely there must be something more innovative to eat on St. Patrick’s Day?

A little leprechaun whispered in my ear about Irishwoman Myrtle Allen, the innovator of creative contemporary Irish cuisine. Fifty years ago, she turned her charming home, Ballymaloe House, into a Michelin-starred restaurant in Shanagarry, County Cork, serving simple and superb Irish food. I think of her as the Irish counterpart to Alice Waters, the woman who inspires us to cook with the seasons using locally produced foods.

Myrtle taught herself to cook by taking courses at the local community college and experimenting in her kitchen. She used her husband’s freshly grown fruits and vegetables and paired them with mackerel and scallops from nearby Ballcotton Bay and beef and lamb from local butchers. Ducks and geese were simply roasted, oysters were served hot and buttered. She made soups of simple things like watercress, carrots and cucumbers. She began teaching cooking classes and founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in the 1960s and then opened The Yeats Room, a restaurant in Ballymaloe Manor, in 1964. The restaurant received its first Michelin Star in 1975, along with one star in the Egon Ronay Guide, which ranks Dublin restaurants. The awards kept coming and in 2011 Myrtle received the Taste Icon Award presented by the Taste of Dublin.

She is the founder of Euro-toques Ireland, an organization of professional cooks that works to promote and protect culinary heritage. She has given confidence to generations of professional and home cooks and inspired them to create with foods found in their regions.

Myrtle turned 90 earlier this year.

You can learn more about Ballymaloe House and the Ballymaloe Cookery School online at

If St. Patrick’s Day won’t be the same without corned beef and cabbage, by all means serve it. But I am hoping you will enjoy this example of contemporary Irish cuisine even better.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Seared Salmon with Raisin and Caper Butter

Makes 8 servings

Wild salmon, once so plentiful in Ireland that domestic servants could stipulate in their contracts that they should not have to eat it more than three times per week, has now become a luxury item on both sides of the Atlantic. However, when top-notch fish is available, this simple preparation is a great way to showcase it. The compound butter, with its use of raisins, harks back to the dried fruits popular in the Middle Ages, and the capers show the fondness of contemporary Irish cooks for Mediterranean flavors. Irish butter, with its high fat content, will add a particularly rich flavor, but regular American butter can be substituted.

For butter

1/4 cup raisins

1 stick Irish butter such as Kerrygold, softened*

1/3 cup capers

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon chopped chives

For salmon

8 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, preferably wild

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Available at specialty foods shops. If unavailable, substitute regular unsalted butter and add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Make butter:

In small bowl, combine raisins and 1/2 cup hot water. Cover and let soak 2 hours, then drain.

In food processor, combine butter, raisins, capers, and lemon zest and pulse until well combined. Stir in chives. Transfer to large sheet of wax paper and roll into 6-inch-long log.

Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to develop.

Make salmon:

Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. In 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until hot but not smoking. Add 4 fillets, skin-sides-up, and sear until undersides are well browned, about 4 minutes. Turn fillets over and sear until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer to serving platter and keep warm. Wipe pan clean, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and repeat with remaining 4 fillets.

Slice log of butter into 8 coins. Top each salmon fillet with 1 coin and serve immediately.

This recipe is adapted from Chef Paul Flynn of The Tannery in Dungarvan, Ireland.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

2 pounds shoulder lamb chops, about 1-inch thick


Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup Guinness beer or any dark beer

1 pound new potatoes

1 pound baby carrots, peeled

1 pint pearl onions, peeled

4 cups lamb stock

2 tablespoons dark roux

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking add the chops. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the chops from the pan and set aside. Add the beer and continue to cook for 1 minute, scraping any brown particles off the bottom of the pan. Add the lamb back to the pan. In a mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with salt and pepper. Add the vegetables to the pan. Cover with the stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the lamb falls off the bone. Stir in the roux and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and spoon into serving bowls.

Recipe adapted from Irish Country Cooking by Darina Allen, published by Viking Penguin, 1996

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter @barbrandallfood.

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