`The Irish Pub Cookbook' is the fourth Irish themed cookbook I have reviewed from Irish-American Margaret M. Johnson of New York. All four, including `The New Irish Table', `Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools', and `The Irish Heritage Cookbook' are of similar trade paperback format from Chronicle Books. They are also similar in that all seem to be collections of recipes from various culinary professionals in Ireland. They all also seem to repeat a lot of sidebar material, although I have yet to see any repeated recipes.
To state a perfectly obvious fact, you probably only want to buy this book if you happen to want to cook recipes prepared at Irish pubs. That is, if you already own a fairly sizable collection of cookbooks, many of the recipes in this book will simply be variations on recipes you already have in either a standard book on Irish cooking or in books on Brasserie or Trattoria cooking. This premise, however, is no little recommendation. My personal experience of pub food in England, to which most of these recipes bear a strong resemblance, is that English speaking pubs offer a quality of food at least as good as their much more widely advertised French Brasserie and Italian Trattoria cousins. Like the famous Italian and French `bar food' recipes, these also have the virtue of being very fast to prepare. Either they cook very quickly or they can be cooked up ahead and reheated very quickly. The best model for Americans of pub / brasserie / trattoria food would be the kind of thing you will find at Chili's, Bennigan's, or Appleby's, except that my experience with the three European versions is that they tend to deal in less greasy and less cliched dishes.
The seven recipe chapters are:
Starters with 10 recipes with several based on seafood such as mussels, oysters, and salmon.
Soups with 9 recipes emphasizing cream based soups, plus four recipes for homemade stocks.
Salads with 9 recipes with lots of recipes using chicken, seafood, and cheese.
Hot Pots, Meat Pies, and Savory Tarts (hot pots are rich, thick stews) with 12 recipes featuring pies, savory tarts, `Irish Stew', and brown soda bread.
Meat and Potatoes with 12 recipes for, you guessed it, meat and potatoes, including pork (bacon and ham), lamb, fowl, and steaks.
Seafood with 8 recipes featuring salmon, cod, haddock, and monkfish.
Desserts with 11 recipes for cheesecakes, apple and pear cakes, puddings, mousses and pies.
If your primary interest is Irish desserts, go for the author's, `Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools', although this book includes cheesecakes, which are not in the dessert book.
Johnson certainly writes well about her recipes, although this may not be the best book for a green amateur, as there are few tips on techniques, although a fair knowledge of common kitchen techniques should be more than enough. I do tend to be just a little annoyed at Ms. Johnson's always citing Irish staples in her ingredients list such as `Kerrygold Irish Butter'. I feel that for a `comfort food book, it would have been better not to be expected to chase down a very specific, uncommon ingredient. The book also makes an important point that to the Irish, the pig is commonly divided into `ham' and `bacon'. This can easily be the source of the `Canadian bacon' label for smoked pork loin, as the Irish call everything not part of the rear leg ham to be `bacon'. While explaining this little bit of wisdom, the author seems to be not as clear as she could be in identifying exactly what kind of pork she means when she calls for `bacon'.
A collection of Ms. Johnson's books will give you an excellent overview of contemporary Irish cooking and contemporary Irish hospitality, with a few insights into Irish culinary history. So, if all you want is the recipes, these books are quite good. If you want to go deeper into traditional cooking, start with `Irish Traditional Cooking' by leading Irish cooking school owner, Darina Allen and her husband's `The Ballymaloe Bread Book' by Tim Allen (not the comedian).