Food porn: Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee

Well, it’s about time to start writing again in my wretched little weblog. My apologies to the now-three or four regular readers. I’m still not ready to talk about my late mother.

So, I will again change the subject.

Today is the feast of St. Patrick, a feast which apparently is recognized in both the Latin West and the Greek East. It would seem that everyone likes the Irish. Except, perhaps, other Irish.

I’m told that in Ireland, these days, it is a minor feast. And if its date does not fall on a Sunday, few, other than the devout, will go to Mass on that day, or otherwise celebrate the feast.

But, I am told, it is another thing altogether in the ‘States. Millions of Irish-Americans, and millions more of would-be Irish-Americans, celebrate St. Patrick’s feast in all sorts of ungodly customs, most of them invented in the Twentieth Century, and the rest in the Twenty First.

At least those founded in the Twentieth have the advantage of being tasty. Things like corned beef and cabbage (which I am given to understand that American Irish used to buy from Jewish delis), and Irish Coffee (which I first thought was Irish, later thought was a ‘San Francisco treat’, and which lately I have discovered got its start in Ireland around 1943, and then rolled downhill from there all the way to San Francisco).

Finally, I’m given to understand that Twenty-First Century traditions for St. Patrick’s Day include green beer and the Irish Car Bomb. But, the less said about either of those abominations, the better.

The two traditions that my family cultivated for the Feast of St. Patrick were corned beef and cabbage, and Irish coffee. As my mother in her last years developed an intolerance for nitrates and nitrates (among many other dietary restrictions), we got around those by corning our own beef. In fact, one of my fondest memories was just a couple of years ago, when I, my brother Bill, my nephew John, and my mother had a proper corned beef and cabbage dinner, with small Yukon potatoes, and garnished with a nice Dijon mustard. It was, perhaps, non-canonical. It remained, however, quite delicious.

But we’re talking about Irish Coffee, here, so the recipe for gourmet corned beef and cabbage will just have to wait for another year or so.

So, guyz, the classic Irish Coffee is, according to the IBA, confected of the following:

–2 parts Irish Whisky (2 centiliters, or cl)

–4 parts hot Coffee (4 cl)

–1/2 part Brown Sugar (1/2 cl, or 1 teaspoon)

–1 1/2 parts Cream (1 & 1/2 cl)

And the manner in which this estimable comestible is confected is this: mix whisky, coffee, and sugar in a cup. Float cream on top of mixture. Enjoy.

Of course, both the Devil, and one’s delight, are in the details. So, let’s just examine each of the details.

–Irish Whisky. It should go without saying that if one wants a proper Irish Coffee, then some variety of Irish is the whisky to get. Among the literary set, Jameson’s, the favorite tipple of James Joyce, is the canonical choice. Somehow, though, I doubt that dear old Jimmy would sully his with anything other than perhaps a splash of rain or creek water. If you are not a nationalist partisan of The War of Independence, or The (later) Troubles, then I suppose Bushmills would do, though you might just start a row in any genuinely Irish pub if you were so rash as to order one there. I’m told that Trader Joe’s has a good single malt Irish Whisky. Or, if you want to go all hipster, you could try one of these.

–Coffee. Hot, strong, and black is the operative ingredient here. For those with a working espresso machine, then a cafe americano would do. If you have a french press, then a good coarsely ground french roast coffee would also do. And, if you are the kind that likes to build things from the ground up, then I have written something here which might be of some use to you.

–Sugar. If you are an impurist, then I suppose that simple white granulated sugar would do. If you are a purist, then brown sugar would be the way to go. But if you are at all adventurous, then you might want to grate a teaspoon of piloncillo, or even pour a teaspoon of Jamaican molasses, as a variant. Tell me how it goes, if you do.

-Cream. Here’s where most of the arguments happen. Back in Ireland in the ’40s, they floated simple thick cream from Ireland (as opposed to Irish Cream, which is a whole ‘nother animal) on top of the coffee drink. And for some, unwhipped heavy cream is the only acceptable choice. If you take that route, then you will need the recommended sugar in the coffee part of the drink, as that will alter the specific gravity of the coffee to the point where it will be easier for the cream to remain floating on the surface of the coffee. Hey, it’s science, and the science is settled. You wouldn’t want to be a science denier, now, wouldja?

For many, though, they alter the specific gravity of the cream, by adding some sugar, or vanilla extract, and by using a whisk or an electric whipper, to add a bit of air to the cream, and thereby making it lighter. Some even more daring souls will run the cream through a whipping cream foamer. The lazy (which I was this morning) will use a can of whipped cream. Now, if you decide to make that choice, Alta Dena at least has a variety with real cream.

Just don’t tell me if you decide to use a spray can or tub of Kool-Whip or another such abomination. I really don’t want to know about that shizzit.

On the other hand, there are some who can not consume cream, whipped or otherwise, because of health or dietary reasons. And some of my friends are keeping what the Irish used to call a black fast: a diet without meat, fish, milk, or eggs. While I have had some hard things to say about most vegans, I can sympathize with those who have had to adopt a vegan diet, either through medical necessity, or because of obedience to their religion.

In which case, I would suggest substituting the cream with something which is at least organic, rather than a chemical feast (yecchh!) One might therefore consider something like this.

And, for those who, in celebrating St. Patrick’s day, actually remember the Reason for the Season, I would recommend this: