Mike Hanrahan on the rise and fall of the Magnificent Seven, 1989
The musician and cook recalls a Mexican trip and shares his recipe for Chilli Paddy Carney
In 1989 we ended a gruelling run of gigs from Ireland to the UK, back to Ireland and then straight over to Gaelic Park in Chicago to begin a 10-day trip that included Boston, New York and LA. We finished with an afternoon gig in the sunshine at a crazy bar called Lunny’s in Orange County, California, owned by an old family friend, Clare man Ray Tubridy.
Ray was a former professional pool player and hustler who, believe it or not, won the pub in a game of pool. We badly needed some downtime, so Tubs gave us his very large Winnebago RV and sent us south of the border to Tijuana. There we spent a few hours soaking up the atmosphere and drinking margaritas on a sunlit veranda before heading down along the beautiful Pacifi c coastline. We pulled into a small hotel just outside Ensenada in darkness, checked in and decided to ramble up the street for some food.
We stopped by a traditional-looking Mexican bar and settled in for the evening. We were hardened fans of Mexican food, having tasted our share of tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and all sorts of chillies, but this somehow felt more than special. A group of local musicians came into the restaurant and started playing. When they discovered we were musicians, the party really started, and we got to know that infamous swimming worm in the bottom of a couple of bottles of tequila.
The following morning, someone suggested we hire seven ponies and race along the beach to clear the heads. What a cure for a tough night it proved to be, as the Magnificent Seven readied themselves to ride again. We all loved horses, but keyboard player Peter was an exceptional horseman. My love of horses goesback to Charlie, my granddad’s trusty steed, and had been rekindled when a friend of mine set up a horse-riding school at her farm in the Dublin mountains and suggested I take a few lessons.
After my first morning, I was hooked and went out at least once a week. At first, bumping along at a gentle trot, until I had the confidence to canter through the woods and fields – oh, that feeling of freedom, excitement and a little dread as you rose into the air over fence or ditch at the total mercy of your cob. Set up in our comfy American saddles, we revelled in that beach race, then headed back to our friends at the restaurant and had another right hooley, instruments in hand.
Horses reappeared in our touring life the following year on a weekend of gigs in Reykjavik. Our hosts brought us out to the wonderful hot springs for a dip before introducing us to those little darlings, Icelandic ponies.
After our Mexican success, myself and Peter were excited for a pony ride, but the rest of the lads decided to stay on solid ground. We saddled up, confident that nothing could go wrong. They were only small little things after all, no bother.
We were given a few quick lessons which we didn’t really take in, and as soon as the farmer smacked their behinds, the ponies flew into a canter. Their speed increased with each stride, and squeezing the reins just made them run faster and faster and faster and faster.
We quickly lost control, as these little guys clearly knew they were in charge of our fate. Peter took his chances and jettisoned safely onto soft ground, but I came to an abrupt halt a minute later, ditched unceremoniously to the hard volcanic ground. I hit the earth with an unmerciful thud that sent me rolling towards a wall of black lava, but I stopped short.
The farmer came running to our aid as we rose gingerly in terrible pain. As we limped back to the paddock he explained – like we needed an explanation – that our manoeuvres had only urged the ponies on. The rest of the lads were doubled over, screeching with laughter. “Four faults there, Mikie! Disqualified!” On the way back to the hotel someone started humming Two Little Boys – it was relentless. The bodies were well bruised, but not as badly as our egos.
We discovered lots of new food, flavours and traditions while touring America, but I particularly fell in love with Mexican cuisine. This chilli is not authentic Mexican food by any stretch – I serve it up in honour of those magnificent seven Irishmen who rode down that Ensenada beach and off into the Pacific sunset.
Chilli Paddy Carney
A glug of rapeseed oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
500g top-quality beef, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2tbsp ground spice mix: cumin, coriander, garam masala and chilli fl akes
1tbsp ground chipotle chilli, or use paste
1tbsp fresh marjoram, chopped
400g tinned tomatoes or passata
250ml good red wine
250ml beef or chicken stock
25g dark chocolate (optional)
1 lime, zested and juiced
400g tinned kidney, pinto or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 courgette, diced
1 yellow pepper, cored and diced
1 red pepper, cored and diced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Rice, quinoa, salsa and lime wedges, to serve (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 2.
2. Put a little oil into a heavy, ovenproof casserole dish and fry the onion.
3. Add the beef and cook in batches until coloured.
4. Tip all the meat back into the pan and add the garlic, spices, chipotle and
half the marjoram. Mix well.
5. Add the tomatoes or passata, wine, stock, chocolate and half the lime juice,
and bring to the boil.
6. Cook in the oven for 1½ hours. Stir in the beans, courgette, peppers and
vinegar and continue to cook on the hob for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Sprinkle with the lime zest and the remaining herbs and lime juice. Serve with rice or a flavoured quinoa, tomato and avocado salsa and some lime wedges.
From Beautiful Affair: A Journey in Music, Food & Friendship by Mike Hanrahan (Harper Collins, €25)