Jennifer Ward Barber
Because painting clovers on my cheeks got old when I was about 25, tonight I'll honor the patron saint of Ireland the way throngs of revelers will: by raising a Guinness or two. But this year, ever more gripped by foodie-ism and privy to genius inventions like Guinness floats, I decided I wanted to drink my Guinness and eat it, too.
The more I thought about it, the more an edible Guinness-fest seemed the only way to honor the blip in the week that would be my St. Patrick's Day. The 1920s posters proclaiming the black stuff as "good for you" rang in my mind. Sure, the phrase was eventually banned, but there had to be some truth in it. Beer baked beans, cheddar-beer soup, and fish in an ale-spiked breading had already succeeded—why not invite Guinness to dinner?
As all good cooks do, I settled on dessert first—an easy choice, given that I'd had a chocolate stout bundt cake recipe bookmarked since last year. There were a lot of chocolate stout cakes to choose from, but having recently visited Great Barrington, MA, I went with one adapted from the Barrington Brewery. Chocolate seemed like a no-brainer for rich, thick stout.
Jennifer Ward Barber
Then came the tough part: dinner itself. I began my search, which, in the age of food blogs and recipe sites, quickly made my brilliant idea to cook with Guinness seem like last year's fad. The recipes themselves were rather uninspiring: setting aside one for potted herring, beef was hands down the most common stout-friendly ingredient. Dozens of hits for Irish beef stews and steak-and-kidney pies rolled in. It made sense, given stout's big flavor, but I'm not much of a red meat eater, so I kept at it. What else could stand up to Guinness, if the beer's flavor even survived the cooking process?
Another idea hit me, inspired, perhaps, by St. Patrick himself: why not substitute Guinness for the typical splash of wine used in risotto? I consulted Google, and was met with much narrower results this time: my browser was quickly populated with more than 20 repetitions of the same oyster-and-watercress Guinness risotto. I felt vindicated by this slightly more creative "invention."
Since risotto has become somewhat of an old reliable in my kitchen, I felt confident with my choice. This Italian comfort food is forgiving of limited supplies, and I always have arborio rice on hand. Despite being a little worried by the addition of raw oysters at the end, which I later learned are a classic companion to Guinness, I forged ahead.
Then came the hurdles. In my far-flung neighborhood, miles from Whole Foods and fancy fish markets, fresh raw oysters are hard to come by. After visits to Giant and Safeway, I learned that apparently so was watercress. Before surrendering to beef stew, I brainstormed about what else could go with Guinness. Attempting to be more Alice Waters-esque and let my local provisions guide me, I tried one last store.
At the end of my road there's a tiny Hispanic grocer known simply as, well, just that, "The Store." I headed in for Guinness Extra Stout (figuring the "extra" would heap on that toasted-barley flavor I was looking for), and couldn't believe it when I found both shrimp—a cheap alternative to oysters—and the elusive watercress among the queso fresco and tamales. With a new bounce in my step, I headed home to create my tribute to Ireland.