Róisín Ingle: The four foods helping us chomp our way through the pandemic

Paul Flynn’s thighs, homemade doughnuts, and My Mate Gerry’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Whatever way you slice it, toast – comforting, carb-loading toast – is the perfect sustenance in a crisis. Photograph: Getty

Whatever way you slice it, toast – comforting, carb-loading toast – is the perfect sustenance in a crisis. Photograph: Getty

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A bird flew over our yarden and dropped four feathers. It was like the first flutterings of snow. I was the sole witness and felt compelled to gather my fellow lockdowners for an extraordinary general meeting to marvel about what had just happened.

I don’t know what it means, I said. Why four feathers? What event occurred above us that the pigeon or seagull or (insert other possible birds, I’m no ornithologist) suddenly moulted so generously like that, if moult is a thing birds even do.

It was big news in our house for a couple of hours. Was it a sign? Or – more likely – an inconsequential happening we’d barely have noticed were we not on constant look out for snippets of non-Covid-19 news?

This is how we live now. Dissecting the reasons grey and white feathers fall from the sky.

I collected the four feathers and stuck them in the pandemic memory box. This is where we keep all our memories of this mad time. Lest we forget. (As though forgetting was an option.)

The feathers will be in the, “that’s so random” section of the memory box. With all the accounts of mad dreams. And the accounts of mad urges/rages that take over various inhabitants of the house at various unpredictable points. And the mad ... look there’s a lot of madness in the memory box.

When it comes to how we remember this part of 2020, the feathers event is a complete anomaly. In this house and I suspect many houses – apart from the aching pain of grief, loss and separation – the main way we will remember our locked down life is through our food memories.

These memories will be different for every household except for variations on the banana bread theme, which is a practically universal. I say practically because the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald confessed to me on a podcast last week that she hadn’t made even one single loaf of banana bread yet. She has an excuse, I suppose, having recently recovered from the virus.

“But I will make it,” she confirmed with her finger on the nation’s pulse as always.

Some of you, I notice, are strictly eating only home cooked meals and haven’t had a takeaway yet. You deserve a medal. And also: when you do go for a takeaway – because you will – I recommend the iconic chicken wings from Elephant & Castle to get you all nostalgic for a time in Dublin when there were hardly any restaurants serving great versions of American classics.

A time pre-Bunsen, pre-Wow and pre-Bujo.

Speaking of Bujo, they are currently delivering the raw ingredients for their incredible burgers including brioche buns, their secret sauce and superior pickles. Perfect if you want to have a takeaway but also do a bit of the cooking yourself. And Shouk, for those of you lucky enough to live on the north side of Dublin, is serving soul-lifting middle eastern foodthat makes you feel healthier after eating it.

With McDonald’s closed, some of you are going to great lengths to replicate classics like the Bacon and Egg McMuffin with home baked toasted muffins. Catherine Cleary, who has, I think the word de jour is pivoted, from her Irish Times restaurant critic duties to a podcast called The Comfort Feed, made a pretty excellent Big Mac at home.

Here are the top four food memories/achievements our family will take from this pandemic so far. The four feathers in our culinary cap, if you will. Maybe they were a sign:

1. Toast

I had taken toast for granted pre-pandemic but not anymore. The simple joy of it. With fresh baked bread – if the yeast gods allow – or the heel of the batch, slathered in Kerrygold. I know many will find the following admission controversial but I have also rediscovered the pleasure of a toasted peanut butter and jam sandwich. Whatever way you slice it, toast – comforting, carb-loading toast – is the perfect sustenance in a crisis.

2. Chicken thighs

They are cheap and one of the tastiest bits of the bird. My cocooning mother Ann raved about Paul Flynn’s recipe for Catalan and Chicken Butterbean Bake from this very newspaper. We’ve made it five times since we were locked down. The recipe has 10 chicken thighs, chorizo, garlic, cream, smoked paprika, rosemary, butter beans and the juice of half an orange. It’s easy-peasy and consistently gorgeous. Or your money back.

3. Doughnuts

Did you know you can bake them? You can! While I had become deeply irritated by the proliferation of doughnut emporiums and the frenzy that greeted Krispy Kreme in Blanchardstown, my children have discovered a recipe from the Barefoot Countessa, Ina Garten. No yeast is required, and the result when rolled in cinnamon sugar is better than all the deep fried doughnuts smothered with a hundred flavours of gunk in the land.

4. My Mate Gerry’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I can’t say too much or he’ll shoot me. But the secret is in the slightly mucky oil kept for the express purpose of deep-frying the chicken. Over to Gerry: “As to your coating, or dredge as its known across the Atlantic, think in layers of dry ingredients. Salt, lots, pepper obviously, black and coarse. Smoked paprika, chilli powder according to tolerance. Powdered garlic and onion a must. Ground coriander but not cumin, too aggressive. Celery salt and ground fennel work a charm. Oregano if you feel the need. All of these combined in a spice/flour ratio of one to 10. Dredge them in small batches in a large lidded container and shake vigorously until your forearms start to object. Let the pieces dry out a little before frying in copious amounts of the aforementioned slightly mucky oil in a large skillet or similar that can accommodate the bird very comfortably. None of this matters if you haven’t marinated the jointed pieces in seasoned buttermilk for 24 hours beforehand. But hey, you have time on your hands.”

I say he’ll shoot me but I reckon Gerry could be persuaded to share the exact recipe. As everybody keeps saying ad nauseum “we’re all in this together”, heroically and hopefully chomping our way towards more familiar times.

roisin@irishtimes.com