County Cork’s Myrtle Allen and her Ballymaloe cookbooks and cooking school are the source of this recipe for a deeply delicious Steak and Oyster Pie. But before assumptions are made let me ‘fess up: the shamrock embellishment atop the puff pastry is my own Irish-American embellishment. .
As most know, our March 17th bacchanals are an American invention. On the old sod celebrations of the country’s patron saint run along the lines of mass and perhaps a shamrock sprig on the lapel you’re feeling festive. But when you’re Mom’s a Brennan (and her mother a Kelly before that), your brothers are Kevin, Dennis, Bryan and Brendan, and Dad’s license plates are Mar 17th, St. Patrick’s Day was cause for all sorts of over-the-top high jinx.
A particularly memorable St. Patrick’s Day was when Dad dressed in his best “priest-on-his-day-off” manner (he did stop short of a Roman collar; but the black shirt, black trousers and Aran Island sweater struck just the right chord of clerical bonhomie). Waving to the revelers perched atop a black Cadillac convertible decorated with “Father Sullivan’s Home for Boys” signs turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. And what of it? He was a father raising five sons, so 405 Park Road was indeed a home for boys.
As providence had it, our Holy Redeemer uniforms consisted of green pants and green cardigans. We gathered up our school chums and marched alongside. And when our adorable black Irish good looks melted hearts it would have been uncharitable to not accept the small donations tipped into our green paper top hats. Where’s the sin in our post-parade trip to McDonalds for a restorative lunch? Growing boys need to eat.
Fast forward to Steve and my first trip to the Emerald Isle — it was as grand as all said it would be. A homecoming of sorts for me (Steve is from fine colonial English stock). Visiting great grandfather Sullivan’s village Templenoe, just outside of Kenmare, I was told it would be short work with the parish records to determine which of the seven Templenoe Sullivans I could trace kinship. I declined; we’re a big enough clan stateside already and the prospect of a phone call from some distant relative looking for a place to crash in NYC held no appeal. A local’s visual appraisal determined I was a long-lost cousin of “Blackie” Sullivan (the hair again). So the establishment of the ancestral link was checked off the list.
Up in Dublin, the Book of Kells at Trinity College was pretty awesome. Sharp eyes will notice the backdrop of the Steak and Oyster Pie is printed with a Kells illustration. Even cooler was the nearby Christ Church Cathedral. Don’t miss the iron heart-shaped reliquary containing the heart of Laurence O’Toole in a dimly lit niche. . After the noble patriot died on the fighting fields of France in the 1500s his heart was returned to Dublin. St. Laurence is the patron saint of Dublin. Travel is so educating.
Back to the Steak and Oyster Pie. The briny, minerally oysters are a perfect foil for the deep beefyness of the classic stew. Piling on more freshly-shucked oysters before the pastry lid goes on makes a good thing even better. True to Ireland’s no-nonsense approach to cooking, no spices are needed here. I did take one small liberty and added some chopped parsley but that’s it. This is authentic Hibernian haute-cuisine from dear Myrtle.
Click here for the recipe for Ballymaloe Steak and Oyster Pie.
Feeling lamby? Try this recipe for the Ballymaloe Dingle Pie.
One last thing — the traditional Gaelic spelling of Sean is Seán. Just sayin’.