Ireland: Dublin Coddle (March 6, 2007)
This traditional supper dish of sausages, bacon, onions and potatoes dates back at least as far as the early eighteenth century. It seems to be more of a city dish than a rural one: it was a favorite of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels and dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
The name of the dish is probably descended from the older word caudle, derived from a French word meaning "to boil gently, parboil, or stew". The more recent version of the verb, "coddle," is still applied to gently cooked eggs; and in the case of Dublin coddle, it's become a noun, applied to a dish that is cooked very slowly at low temperatures.
In Dublin itself, coddle retains its reputation as a dish that can be prepared ahead of time and left in a very slow oven while the people who're going to eat it have to be out of the house for a while -- in particular, at a funeral: when everyone returns for the wake, the dish will be ready, and won't have suffered from being left in the oven a little longer than planned. While this is a simple dish, its quality depends entirely on the quality of the raw materials you use to make it -- so it's important to find the best ingredients you can.
The basic ingredients are potatoes, onions, sausages, bacon, and water. The only seasonings the oldest recipes use are chopped fresh parsley and pepper. Some coddle recipes add apples to the mixture, but these seem to be in the minority. The sausages used should be the best quality 100% pork sausages you can get your hands on. Pre-seasoned sausages are fine: the standard US breakfast sausage would work very well in this dish. The potatoes should be baking potatoes, not a waxy salad variety.
Getting the right bacon may be something of an issue. For coddle you don't want North American-style crisp / thin bacon: you want a thicker-sliced bacon, ideally salt-cured rather than sugar- or maple- cured. (Specifically for coddle, some Dublin butchers still sell "bacon off-cuts" -- small leftover pieces from the ends of the cured pork cuts they slice to sell as the traditional Irish back bacon "rashers".) Smoked bacon is fine: and if your butcher can supply you bacon with the rind on, this is best of all, as the slow cooking of the rind will add richness to the sauce that the dish develops.
Many coddle recipes presently found in Irish cookbooks are severely plain, and in some cases so oversimplified that the results are just too bland to be enjoyable. Our version overcomes this problem by grilling the meats briefly before they go into the mixture -- contributing both color and extra flavor to the recipe. (Other recipes suggest grilling or frying the sausages after the cooking is complete... but why wait?)
- 3-4 pounds baking or boiling potatoes (We used Kerr's Pinks: in North America, Idaho bakers or standard white potatoes will work fine)
- 450g / 1 pound good sausages
- 450g / 1 pound thick-cut bacon
- 500ml / approx. 2 cups water, and more as necessary while cooking
- 1 bouillon / stock cube (preferably ham: beef or chicken if ham stock isn't available)
- Large handful fresh parsley
- Salt and coarse-ground pepper to season
Peel the potatoes. Cut large ones into three or four pieces: leave smaller ones whole. Finely chop the parsley. Boil the water and in it dissolve the bouillon cube.
Grill or broil the sausages and bacon long enough to color them. Be careful not to dry them out! Drain briefly on paper towels. When drained, chop the bacon into one-inch pieces. If you like, chop the sausages into large pieces as well. (Some people prefer to leave them whole.)
Preheat the oven to 300F / 150C. In a large flameproof heavy pot with a tight lid, start layering the ingredients: onions, bacon, sausages or sausage pieces, potatoes. Season each layer liberally with fresh-ground pepper and the chopped fresh parsley. Continue until the ingredients are used up. Pour the water / bouillon mixture over the top. On the stove, bring the liquid to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down and cover the pot. (You may like to additionally put a layer of foil underneath the pot lid to help seal it.)
Put the covered pot in the oven and cook for at least three hours. (Four or five hours won't hurt it.) At the two-hour point, check the pot and add more water if necessary. There should be about an inch of liquid at the bottom of the pot at all times.
Serve. Guinness, bottled or draft, goes extremely well with this dish (indeed, adding a little to the pot toward the end of the process wouldn't hurt anything). Another good accompaniment is fresh soda bread, used to sop up the gravy.