A true story about coddle.
In the Auld Dubliner, where they served coddle and colcannon at half twelve on the dot and not a second before, the women got ready in the serving area, a room to the right of the side door at Fleet Street. The quiet one was long in the tooth, a culinary veteran of the Liberties’ traditional food. The noisy one was much younger, much to learn but keen to learn, that was obvious. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘We’re right so.’
We gradually moved into the room and hovered. Six water-heated containers confronted us, held in a long basin resting on two oblong tables pushed together. The younger woman lifted the lid of the first three containers for our convenience, saying nothing, leaving the explanation to my friend Seán Dove, for it was sure that she had knowledge of him, at least that is what I saw when I watched them exchange eyes.
‘Coddle,’ Dove said, ‘sausage, bacon, onion, potato, like a stew,’ leaning over to sniff the aromatic steam that lingered.
‘This one?’ I asked, pointing to the middle container.
‘Cabbage and mash and scallions,’ he said, looking into the container. ‘Should be made from curly kale, that is summer cabbage there.’ He winked at the woman.
I didn’t need to ask what was in the third last container. Steaming in the container were about six pig trotters covered in parsley, sage and thyme, smelling of stewed carrot and onion. Dove looked hard at the young woman. She had long auburn hair tied up in a bun under a yellow head scarf. Her bosom was flattened under a tight-fitting apron. If he had bothered to make small talk with her, and it appeared that he did, being attracted by her rustic appearance, he would have discovered he knew her. When she wasn’t working in the kitchen of the Auld Dubliner making coddle, colcannon and cruibíns from her mother’s recipes, she was a cleaner in the college where he taught food anthropology. The words he would normally have used in the seduction of a young girl were beyond the capacity of his brain in that moment. All he could do was stare at her. Food was his only priority. In a sudden upward movement of her long neck she eye-balled him. ‘What are ye staring at?’ she said in an abrupt tone. ‘Have I got horns or what?’
‘Yes,’ he stuttered. ‘No, I mean, no, sorry, I didn’t mean to stare at you.’ He cleared his throat, coughing gently. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said in a nervous tentative voice.
‘I will have some cabbage mash with a pig’s … ah … foot please,’ I said. ‘And some of the stew … the coddle.’
‘Are you not eating?’ I asked him.
‘I can’t decide,’ he replied.
‘We’re closing the kitchen at one,’ the woman said, pulling a face at him. He missed the wit behind the irony. ‘This is the only serving. When it’s gone, it’s gone.’
‘Right,’ said Dove. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’
Out of nowhere, silence hovered in the space between them.
The habit butchers had of over salting their pork sausages used to work in favour of this traditional stew, which relied on a stock made from the hock and root vegetables and all the flavour you could get out of the bacon, gammon and sausages.
Sadly no longer an essential aspect of Dublin life, its revival as a tasty lunchtime pub snack in the 1980s at the Auld Dubliner was short-lived. Few cafes, pubs and restaurants bothered with it in those and none bother with it now.
In the Liberties in Dublin’s south inner-city, fish and chips gradually usurped coddle for Saturday night supper. Butchers stopped featuring the ingredients on their counters, knowing the demand was gone.
The earliest coddles were flavoured with bacon bones and leeks, thickened with barley or oatmeal and served with various types of sausage.
Parsley was cooked in the dish.
Scallions replaced leeks, onions replaced scallions.
Onions and potatoes changed the nature of coddle, transforming it into an iconic Dublin dish of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The classic coddle contained bacon, sausage, onion, potatoes and parsley in a flavoured soup.
These days coddle can be anything from a plate of bacon bits, grilled sausages and cubed potatoes in a thin seasoned soup to an elaborate vegetable stew made with bacon and sausage pieces in a herb-cider stock.
A genuine coddle should have Irish ingredients – bacon, gammon, onions, potatoes and sausages with more meat than fat and minimal salt.
On no account boil the bacon and sausages to extract a stock, use a stock cube or a teaspoon of bouillon if you haven’t time to make a stock from ham bones, herbs and vegetables.
This is a modern interpretation.
- Ham Hock, boiled for stock with 2 bay leaves, 2 carrots chopped, a quarter of a whole celeriac root sliced, 2 kale leaves cut into thin strips, 2 onions chopped, seasoned with ground black pepper, one tablespoon of chopped lovage and one teaspoon of vegetable bouillion
- 750 onions, sliced
- 750 potatoes waxy, sliced thinly
- 650 g (4) large pork sausages, each cut into thick pieces
- 350 g gammon, cut into 8 slices
- 200 g kale, coarsely cut, steamed
- 60 g black pudding, cubed (optional)
- 15 g black peppercorns
- 30 g parsley, chopped
- Herbs, handful
- 4 slices streaky bacon, grilled until crispy, crushed
Layer the base of an ovenproof dish with onions and peppercorns, arrange the gammon, sausages and sprinkle with herbs of your choice. If using add the black pudding at this stage. Finish with overlapped rows of the sliced potatoes. Pour in the stock until it covers the potatoes.
Wrap foil over the dish, put on the lid and bake slowly in a 180°C oven.
Test the potatoes after an hour. If still uncooked bake uncovered until they brown at the edges.
Garnish each serving with parsley and crushed bacon. Serve with steamed kale.