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Boiled smoked bacon with pearl barley and lentils

By 14th March 2014Blog, Catering

St Patrick’s Day, which celebrates the life of a saint on 17th March, has been celebrated for over 1,000 years.  Historically, as St Patrick’s Day fell over Lent, consumption of meat was not allowed, but this was waived to allow everyone to dance, drink and enjoy the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

Today, St Patrick’s Day has taken on worldwide significance. You would be hard pressed to find a major city in the world without an Irish bar. The fact that a good many of us, Irish or not, participate in St Patricks’ Day demonstrates that our customers are also keenly aware of it and this of course provides us with an excellent opportunity as caterers.

In this column, I’ve featured traditional Irish dishes which are both simple to prepare, inexpensive and delicious. You could use unsmoked bacon but I find that smoked makes a better partner to the creamy sweetness of the garnish.

This is typically the time of year when chefs start to get fed up of trying to find something new and exciting to do with a swede and are crying out for a crop of spring vegetables. The addition of pearl barley and lentils, not only boosts the nutritional value of this dish, but also elevates its humble roots.

Barley is associated with a number of health benefits, but chief amongst them is its dietary fibre content which according to reports is helpful in lowering cholesterol. Whatever the science, when all the components of this dish come together, what you have is a deeply satisfying taste of Ireland. Perfect before, during or after any St Patrick’s Day celebration.

Serves 10


  • 2kgs smoked gammon
  • 5 carrots, 4 onions, 2 celery sticks, 1 large leek – all diced
  • Fresh thyme sprigs, bay leaf
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 1 large swede
  • 2 large parsnips
  • Butter
  • Chopped parsley
  • 75g green lentils
  • Stock from the ham if not too salty


Poach the ham very gently in water with the celery, leek, thyme and bay leaf. Skim off any impurities and poach until cooked.

To cook the lentils, melt some butter in a pan, add some of the onion, then the lentils and stir. Add the stock to cover and braise for approximately 30 minutes until tender.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pearl barley in water until soft (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Sweat the remaining carrots and onions in some oil and butter along with the diced swede and parsnips. Add the pearl barley and a little stock and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender. Add the lentils to this mix to create a stew. Add chopped parsley and correct seasoning. Serve with slices of the warm ham.

Some soda bread would round this dish off nicely.

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