If you ever have the good fortune to travel to Ireland, one of the most fun experiences for foodies is the Bunratty Castle Banquet in County Clare.
Overlooking the River Shannon, Bunratty (Bun Raite) Castle was once home to the O’Briens, Earls of Thomond, who controlled the castle between 1500 and 1640.
The Great Earl, who died in 1624, was famous for his hospitality and entertained lavishly in the Great Hall, one of the castle’s grandest rooms. Today, it is beautifully restored to its original state, complete with 15th- to 17th-century furniture, tapestries and other fine objects.
The lively Bunratty Castle Banquet, which run about $75 per person, is an excellent way to tour the restored 15th-century castle while enjoying a night of medieval food, reenactments, live music and dancing.
The feast begins with a salted “friendship” bread (meant to stimulate the appetite) followed by a glass of warm mead, a sweet wine made from fermented honey, apple juice, clover and heather.
In medieval times, a bottle of mead was offered to the bride and groom on their wedding day. The couple was expected to drink it each night for one full moon after the wedding, which is where the term “honeymoon” originated.
Mead was offered to protect the couple from fairies who might spirit the bride away. It was also believed to have magical powers of fertility and virility.
The castle’s Main Guard room, once the soldiers’ dining and sleeping quarters, is now home to the grand four-course meal, offered by candlelight on rustic 15-foot-long wooden tables.
In the Middle Ages, diners used a dagger to eat their meal. Today’s guests are armed with a steak knife and colorful red bib.
For those who can’t travel to the Emerald Isle, here’s a recipe for one of the many dishes you’ll find on the Bunratty Castle Banquet menu. And while you won’t be able to duplicate the entertainment, you can play a CD of your favorite Baroque-style music and enjoy a mug of warm Bunratty Mead.
Bunratty Castle Pork Ribs with Honey-Whiskey Sauce
- 5 pounds pork spareribs
Honey Whiskey Sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion peeled and sliced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 cup Irish whiskey
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup demi-glace or concentrated chicken broth
- Pork Ribs: Put the ribs in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until fork tender, about 1 hour, skimming the water occasionally to remove the foam.
- Transfer ribs to a large baking pan. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in all the remaining ingredients except the demi-glace or concentrated chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce reduces by half, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in the demi-glace. Pour half the sauce over the ribs and bake, turning once, until the ribs begin to brown, 30-40 minutes.
- Slice the meat into 4 or more ribs per person and serve with remaining sauce.
Note: My review was originally published in the Daily Press in 1999.