The Frugal Foodie: Restaurant Eve’s Cathal Armstrong

Sure, there’s a shortage of green these days, but you can still celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style. Chef Cathal Armstrong proves it and whips up an Irish-themed dinner for six for less than $25—Guinness not included.

“It’s the luck of the Irish,” Cathal Armstrong tells me when I comment on how easily he found a great parking space outside my apartment.

The Restaurant Eve chef/owner must keep a stash of four-leaf clovers tucked inside his chef’s coat because he broke all the Frugal Foodie records—we were in and out of the grocery store in less than 20 minutes, and Armstrong’s bill rang up $5 under budget. It’s a good way to start off this St. Patrick’s Day challenge, in which we asked Armstrong to make an Irish dinner for six for less than $25.

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As Armstrong works on an Irish stew, generously seasoning both sides of a lamb shoulder, I pepper him with questions about growing up in Ireland. He tells me his father was a tour operator who traveled a lot and loved to cook exotic dishes when he returned home—Spanish food was a favorite. His mother would make simpler, more traditional Irish fare. Armstrong says he hasn’t made this lamb stew in 20 years: “You know how it is when you grow up eating something over and over as a kid.”

Armstrong peels a potato, chops an onion, and slices a carrot. He explains the difference between St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and in the United States. There, it’s more like Thanksgiving—a big, religious holiday. People stay in, and there’s a big feast.

“There’s no green beer,” he says.

With the stew simmering, Armstrong gets to work on a bag of mussels—a nod to the popular Irish song “Molly Malone,” which tells of a beautiful fishmonger who plies her “cockles and mussels” through the streets of Dublin. He examines each mussel to make sure it’s alive—an open shell is a sign one might be dead. He gently taps the open ones on the counter. If it closes, it’s fine. If not, he tosses it into the trash along with any that are cracked or broken. After inspecting each mussel, he gives them a thorough rinse and sets them aside until they’re ready to be cooked.

Checking the stew, Armstrong worries there’s not enough. “I should’ve gotten another piece of lamb,” he says, lamenting that he didn’t spend his entire budget. “I guess it’ll be a real Irish meal.” As it turns out, two guests cancel and we have plenty—must be the luck of the Irish.

Irish Stew

Serves four.

2 lamb shoulders, about 1 pound total
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1½ cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed

Generously salt and pepper both sides of the lamb.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Brown both sides of the lamb for two to three minutes on each side. Remove lamb from the pan and set aside.

Add the carrot, onion, and garlic to the pan. When the vegetables are softened, place the lamb on top and the add potatoes, bay leaf, and water.

Let simmer about two hours. Be careful not to overcook the stew—the lamb will dry out and get tough.

Irish Bread

Serves six.

1½ cups flour
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ stick butter
¾ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda.

Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture has a crumbly texture.

Add the milk. Stir until incorporated.

Shape the dough into a small, round loaf. Cut an 'x' into the top.

Bake for 40 minutes on a baking sheet.

Mussels With Butter and Parsley

Serves six.

2 pounds fresh mussels
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pat of butter
½ bunch parsley, chopped
Splash of water

Inspect each mussel. Toss out any that are cracked or broken. If a mussel is open, gently tap it. If it closes, keep it. If not, throw it away. Remove the “beard”—any seaweed that’s stuck between the lips. Rinse the mussels thoroughly.

Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and let it get well heated.

Add the shallots, garlic, butter, parsley and splash of water—about one ounce—and stir.

Add the mussels and cook for about five minutes until the mussels open and start to pull away from their shells.
Serve warm with Irish bread.


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