March has finally rolled around again, and that means it’s time to break out the green garb, beer and food for St. Patrick’s Day. You might have the former two covered, so I’m here to give you a stellar dish that, believe it or not, doesn’t involve potatoes: braised leeks and Irish bacon.
The main feature of this savory recipe is the luscious leek, that green-and-white root vegetable that looks like an overgrown scallion (green onion). It’s related to both the onion and garlic, but tastes more like a mild onion, and is crunchy and firm when raw. Leeks can be boiled, braised, baked, fried, and even eaten raw, but only the light green root shaft and white base are used when cooking — the dark green leaves must be removed. Leeks are often used in both French and Irish cuisine.
The other main component of this dish is rashers, a.k.a. Irish bacon. Similar to Canadian bacon, Irish bacon is considered “back bacon,” having been cut from the pork loin; but Irish rasher bacon also includes a thin layer of fat around the meat and some of the fattier belly meat, where all American-style bacon comes from.
With the addition of some broth, garlic, heat, and a little luck o’ the Irish (actually, just the ability to follow a recipe), these leeks and rashers come together to make a hearty accompaniment to an Irish meal. It’s simple to prepare and cooks up in minutes. Besides, you’ll need to line your stomach with something healthy before boozing it up in celebration on the 17th, perhaps something that’s naturally green and not just loaded with green dye.
Braised Leeks with Irish Rashers
Makes about 4 servings
2 medium or large leeks
4-6 slices Irish rasher bacon
High-heat cooking oil, as needed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional; sub broth)
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons butter (preferably Irish Kerrygold)
salt and pepper, to taste
Cut off the dark green parts of the leeks where they start to meet the light green parts and discard. Cut off the roots and split the leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse them under cold water to wash off any dirt in the layers and discard any tough outer layers. Shake them off to dry and cut them across (width-wise) into one-inch pieces; set aside. Chop rashers into large pieces, about one-half or one-inch pieces.
Preheat a medium saute pan over medium heat and add a little drizzle of oil to it. When the oil is hot, add the rashers and cook, stirring only occasionally. Cook them for about 5-7 minutes, until they start to become browned. Add the chopped leeks, raise the heat a little, and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to become tender, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Pour in the wine and let it cook until it has reduced by at least half, then pour in the broth and let it cook until is has almost cooked off (leaving just a bit of liquid in the pan). You may have to lower the heat under the pan as the liquid reduces very low. The leeks should be tender when cooked. Stir in the butter and remove pan from heat.
Since the rashers and broth contain salt, you may not need to add salt, so stir in some pepper, then season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve warm.