Meenaleck is a tiny village in County Donegal, Ireland. It is described as "near Crolly", but there is no reason any of us would know where that is either. Situated in the far northwest of the Republic of Ireland, it is home to about 80 people and boasts two pubs. Irish is still spoken in this area, and traditional folk music thrives.
You would be lucky to find yourself amidst the unspoiled beauty of County Donegal and should, quite logically, make your way to Meenaleck and Leo's Tavern for some traditional music and exceptional pub fare.
Leo Brennan is the namesake proprietor of the tavern, but he isn't just the owner. He is a well-known musician with a storied career, as well as father to Enya. His other daughter, Moya Brennan and other family members comprise the band Clannad.
One particular night on a recent trip to Ireland, we were taken to Leo's by family friends to hear a group of talented musicians. Dinner is served and the kitchen closed before the set begins. There is time to take an evening stroll down the gravel road before the music starts. We ordered plenty of food, and it was all seafood. Fresh and bountiful from the nearby pristine Atlantic, you really can't go wrong. We ordered mussels. Usually predictable, these were not. They were so fresh, and so perfectly cooked, and the sauce...the sauce was not the type of white wine broth to which we are so accustomed.
The sauce was a velvety velouté. It glossed over the mussel shells and found its place inside, where it stayed quite appropriately, until it was devoured. Why don't we have this stateside? Why do we settle for less? Why is it "so hard" to make a roux? I feel strongly that this must change.
I have been threatening to re-create those mussels for a few years now. Settling all too often on their thin-broth'd brethren, always thinking about what was and what could be: the fifes and pipes; the cold, damp air settling into your bones; the conviction to make a roux...
I am, by all accounts, a fan of traditional Irish music, folk songs, and the ethereal beauty of the vast coastlines of Ireland that seems to lend its otherworldliness to the likes of Enya and Moya Brennan. I think it is a sound representation of what you can come to expect in Ireland. However, I recently heard a new voice that has changed what I think of when I think of Irish music.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne has recently burst onto the scene. His music is convicted, if not conflicted; devoted but not devout. I don't believe he resents his religion, I believe he is resentful of being a Catholic in a Catholic world....resentful of the institution of religion. Who better than a twenty-four year old to ponder the supposed fallacies of the universe?
His music is heavily-influenced by gospel and Delta Blues. It seems to flow from Mississippi's Muddy Waters down to New Orleans' noted house of ill-repute, not to discount Northern Ireland's Van Morrison along the way.
After hearing his break-out song, "Take Me To Church, " I was inspired to re-visit those mussels. I took the time to make a blond roux and built some flavors into it using fresh thyme and a bay leaf, seasoning it and reserving it. I cleaned the mussels and sweated some shallots. I de-glazed the shallots with Blackened Voodoo lager, giving the ubiquitous white wine a rest for a somewhat "darker" alternative, added the mussels and lovingly steamed them until they opened their repentant clasped shells and bared their wee mussel souls. I used the reserved velouté to blanket them in everlasting flavor, and lay their heads on a consoling bed of crusty bread. They won't soon be forgotten. Not unlike this song:
Here, a few photos of County Donegal:
Enjoy and Sláinte!
Bonus track: Here!