• ,

Food Porn: The full Irish

"Would you like some meat with your meat?" A Full Irish at the Irish House

"Would you like some meat with your meat?" A Full Irish at the Irish House

When I first visited Ireland a number of years ago for a wedding, I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to cuisine. Given my limited exposure to Irish food, my first thought was potatoes and corned beef and cabbage. The usual stereotypes. Then there was something called “Irish soda bread,” whatever that might be. I was also pretty certain that there would be lamb at some point, given all the photogenic images of sheep wandering the verdant Irish countrysides. So, basically, meat and potatoes. Maybe it’d be a little boring, given my adventurous appetites, but I was fine with it, if that was the case.

As it turned out, the cuisine of the Emerald Isle has way more in common with my Louisiana home than I had imagined. First of all, there were oysters. Great ones. The city of Galway, one of my favorite places on the face of the planet, is actually renowned for bivalves, and they even host one of the biggest oyster festivals in the world. Add to that the fact that Galway is city on the water, and that it has a rich music (and drinking) culture, and it’s hard not to call the place the “New Orleans” of Ireland. I felt immediately at home. There was also some of the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had in my life, and that means something, because I’m Jewish and I lived in New York, so I recognize some great lox when I encounter it. No doubt about it, I was impressed.

But there was one aspect of food in Ireland that I hadn’t given much consideration: Breakfast.

I love a great breakfast, but I’ve never considered it “the most important meal of the day,” as some people claim. Maybe this has something to do with some time spent living in Italy, where breakfast was a hefty cappuccino and some toast with butter. I learned to become more of a “big lunch with wine followed shortly thereafter by a nap” sort of fellow.

On my first morning in the town of Sligo, where the wedding would be held, I encountered for the first time the unabashed, shamelessly brazen nature of breakfast in Ireland. The owner of the bed and breakfast in which we were staying also doubled as its cook. He asked me, that morning, what I’d like to eat. I deferred to him, seeing as I didn’t know what my options were, and I assumed he would know better than I.

“How about a ‘Full Irish?’” he asked. I paused to consider this, for a couple of reasons. First, offering to give someone “A Full Irish,” can sound slightly dirty, if your brain inclined in that direction, which of course mine is. Second, I had no idea what it meant. Would he roast a sheep in the yard for me? Would there be Guinness? Or maybe even whiskey? Again, I deferred to the Irish inn-owner, and went with it.

Not long after, our friendly B&B proprietor set before me a plate filled with the kind of food that you might desire if you were, say, scaling the Cliffs of Moher that day, or maybe going into battle against hordes of bloodthirsty Viking invaders: There was bacon -- thick rashers more like ham than the crispy bacon we’re accustomed to in the states -- as well as sausage links, black pudding, white pudding, two sunny side-up eggs, and thick slices of rustic, toasted black bread. There was, essentially, enough meat and cholesterol on this plate to choke a manatee, and the only thing even hinting at a fruit or vegetable was a single stewed tomato, which seemed to me like an afterthought (if a tasty one).

As for condiments, I was offered only one. “Would you care for some brown sauce?” the man asked me. Again, my ignorance reared its head. “What is brown sauce,” I inquired. “Well..” he replied, thinking of an appropriate description. “It’s a sauce, right? And it’s brown. Brown sauce.” I said, “Okay.”

Suffice it to say, I fell immediately and irrevocably in love with the Full Irish. I had that same plate of food, in the same inn, for three consecutive days, adoring every bite of it, until, on the fourth day, I felt myself sweating pork fat and breathing a little more heavily than usual, at which time I switched to cereal. Much as I adore Ireland, If I was going to die a food-related death, I would prefer to do it on my own turf.

There is something so egregiously, carnivorously wonderful about the Full Irish breakfast. It’s almost like a giant, flagrant middle finger to everything vegan. Shoot, even the tomato is stewed in decadently creamy Irish butter. Then we have the two “puddings,” which have nothing to do with the way we think of pudding in the US, as a delicate dessert treat. In the UK, “pudding” is another term for “sausage,” the black version being a blood sausage, and the white more like boudin, filled with pork meat, spices and oats (yet another similarity to my beloved Louisiana cuisine). So, basically, you have four different meats on your plate, as well as two fried eggs and toast. And a tomato. Sometimes there are beans or mushrooms involved, but still, I think it’s fair to say that Lisa Simpson and Paul McCartney would not approve.

And brother, they do not know what they are missing.

I’ve always sought out the Full Irish in whichever city I’ve lived, as a means of comfort, and also a way to balance the very important blood-sausage content level we’ve learned to be so important to living a happy life. Fortunately, I’ve found it here in my home town of New Orleans at the Irish House on St. Charles Ave., at the hands of Chef Matt Murphy. I can’t say that I have the fortitude to down that magnificent bounty of meat and eggs every day, or even every week, but when I do, I do it with aplomb, and it always makes me think fondly and happily of my time in Ireland, and of that cheery inn-owner and his wife, of rolling green hills, of sheep, and the feel of a soft Aran sweater.

This St. Patrick’s day -- or perhaps the day after -- I urge you to avail yourself of a Full Irish. I know I will, and probably with a pint of Guinness, for good measure (for strength!). I’ll wish you cheers as I do so, or, as the Irish say, “sláinte.”

Tune in for Scott Gold's radio piece on the Full Irish on WWNO public radio's Louisiana Eats on Saturday, March 14 at 11 am, and next Wednesday, March 18 at 1 pm


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.