In what is steadily gaining on Thanksgiving as a favorite holiday cooking and eating tradition, I made corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. Like last year, I got my beef brisket from the always excellent Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, only this year I didn’t have to arrange a streetcorner hand-off with Jake for the meat, since they now have a beautiful, well-lit, meat-filled brick-and-mortar shop in Chelsea Market. This year, I upped the ante, corning and cooking 16 lbs of brisket, to feed a crowd of 24.
But instead of telling you about corning beef and boiling cabbage and baking (still not all that successfully) soda bread, I’d like to tell you about Brotchán Foltchep.
Unassuming looking, I know, but this soup is special. Not for nothing is it known as “the king’s soup.”
According to Colman Andrews in The Country Cooking of Ireland, this was the favorite dish of the “sixth-century spiritual and literary icon St. Columkille.”
To make it, you cook four thinly sliced leeks in a couple tablespoons of butter until soft. Then add two cups each of stock (Andrews specifies chicken; I used the goose and pork stocks hanging out in my freezer for two separate batches, both were good) and milk, and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in a half cup of Irish steel-cut oatmeal, season with salt, pepper, and mace, and simmer for 45 minutes.
In making it, I thought of my favorite red lentil soup. Like many good soups — and the reason soupmaking tops pretty much all other culinary endeavors for me — reading the list of ingredients tells you nothing about what the end result is going to taste like. Or more to the point, how good it’s going to be. Leeks and oatmeal! With milk and stock! It’s a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts arithmetic: the stock providing the lowest common denominator, the emulsification of butter and milkfat an exponential gain, the sinusoidal effects of allium and oats — okay, you get the picture. I don’t think that metaphor can support any more.
Good enough for kings, and good enough for me. And apparently good enough for the guests, who finished off two gallons of it, leaving me with leftovers of everything else and two empty soup pots.