What is an Irish salad you may ask?
An Irish salad is an ensemble of cold vegetables, meat, eggs and cheese, carefully arranged on a plate, and not tossed or mixed in any shape or form.
For any readers who grew up in Ireland, I’m quite certain you frequently ate salad for tea or your evening meal during the summer months.
I’ll never forget my shock on reading a New York restaurant salad menu, when I first arrived in the United States over 30 years ago.
Until then I had no idea salads come in so many shapes and sizes, tossed and untossed selections, some with fruit and veg mixed together, and smothered in every kind of dressing under the sun.
Mayonnaise or salad cream were the fancy salad dressings when I was growing up in Dublin. Mayonnaise was always served as a delicate blob on our salad plates, and not drizzled all over the salad American style.
I do enjoy a good Cobb salad, a Chinese tossed salad, or a mixed green American ensemble, and modern Ireland has embraced every kind of French, Asian and Italian salad you can dream of.
However, I must admit I’m still very partial to a good old traditional Irish salad.
This salad is often called an Irish pub salad. Variations of traditional Irish salads are served in Irish pubs throughout the United States.
And so today, I thought I might introduce you to the salad plates our Irish mothers and grandmothers served for decades. And who knows this little tutorial may come in handy for younger Irish mothers who may wish to rediscover how Irish salads were made many moons ago.
So let’s get to it and learn how to assemble an Irish salad. No cooking required here, just some very specific Irish ingredient choices.
Essential Ingredients For An Irish Salad Plate:
Let’s start by discussing essential salad elements and then we’ll review some optional choices. The following ingredients are used 99% of the time when creating this Irish summertime salad plate.
The lettuce used in Ireland for this salad is a soft leaf butter lettuce also known as Bibb or Boston lettuce. Here in the United States it is often sold under the label live lettuce and it comes with its root intact for longer lasting lettuce.
The soft, tender leaves make a perfect bed for the other ingredients in an Irish salad.
Use about two to three full leaves per plate. Wash and dry the leaves first, then lay them straight down on the plate. No chopping or shredding required.
Hard Boiled Eggs:
One hard boiled egg is usually served per person, quartered and not sliced or mashed.
It’s very important there’s no black ring around the yolk of your hard boiled eggs – they just look unappetizing.
Lay the egg quarters on the plate beside the lettuce leaves.
Cold Sliced Ham or Turkey:
Cold cuts are the next essential. Sliced ham is usually the meat of choice, but cold, sliced turkey breast is often used.
The key to meat presentation for an Irish salad is rolling the meat slices.
I used two rolled slices of deli turkey and one rolled slice of ham, but it’s totally up to you to decide how much meat is your perfect portion size.
A medium sized vine ripened tomato is best to replicate an Irish salad in the US.
The tomato is quartered rather than sliced or diced, and remove the little green stem portion.
For presentation purposes simply lay the tomato wedges on the plate beside the meat.
Grated Cheddar Cheese:
Cheddar cheese is recommended for this dish, and if you can get your hands on some tangy Irish cheddar like Dubliner cheese, then all the better. Irish cheddar is far stronger and sharper than American varieties.
Grate the cheese and place a spoonful or two on the plate beside the eggs and ham.
No sprinkling the cheese over the top. The Irish salad eater gets to decide how to combine ingredients on the fork for each and every bite. I’ll explain our “back of the fork” eating technique after we’ve assembled our salads.
Sliced cucumber is often used to add a little extra to this salad. Be sure to use an English cucumber not the American varieties. These are sometimes called hothouse or seedless cucumbers.
I like to peel the cucumber before slicing it for this salad.
Add 5 to 6 slices of cucumber on each plate.
Now it’s time to chose a few more ingredients which I consider to be optional and dependent upon your own salad palate.
I’ll start by introducing the optional ingredients I picked for my Irish summer salad.
Sliced Pickled Beets:
Jars of sliced pickled beets are readily available in Ireland, just like in US grocery stores.
For this salad place two or three slices of drained beets on the plate if the beet rounds are large, but if they’re smaller, like in the jar of beets I used, then six or seven slices is good.
I love the dark purple color these add to the dish.
A spoon of coleslaw adds a great flavor profile. However, to truly be a taste of Ireland, I recommend using creamy Irish style coleslaw. It does not have vinegar like most American coleslaw recipes.
A spoon or two of coleslaw is perfect for each plate.
Here’s the link for my Creamy Irish Style Coleslaw, where you can learn all about what makes Irish coleslaw different to American slaw.
A spoon of potato salad is next, but my pick is no ordinary chopped American potato salad.
I choose Irish style, mashed potato salad. The kind I grew up on – easily whipped together using left over mashed potatoes.
Add a small amount of potato salad to each plate.
My Irish mashed potato salad is made by mixing mashed potato seasoned with salt and pepper, with mayonnaise, a little sour cream and chopped chives.
Eating this creamy cool potato mix simply makes me nostalgic.
Mayonnaise or Salad Cream:
Now it’s time for our Irish salad dressing. No fancy concoctions required here. A simple spoon of mayonnaise is placed on the plate. Alternatively salad cream can be used, a favorite dressing for many Irish people.
Salad cream is a distinctively Irish and British alternative to mayonnaise with a slight hint of vinegar.
I choose mayonnaise, but my husband is a salad cream kind of Irish man, so it’s an essential condiment in our house for sandwiches and salads.
And that’s how I built my Irish salad.
A Few More Ingredient Choices:
Now if you would prefer an alternative ingredient to one or two ingredients in my Irish style pub salad, then here are some other options….
Dieters sometimes replace cheddar cheese, which I consider essential, with cottage cheese for its more appealing calorific profile.
Feel free to add a dollop of cottage cheese instead of, or even together with the cheddar, but only if you like the curdy stuff.
Slices of smoked salmon are sometimes chosen as a substitute for cold cuts. An expensive choice, but my daughter loves this delicacy.
She’ll take smoked salmon any day over cold slices of ham. It’s her Irish taste buds taking over.
Chopped Scallions (Green Onions) or Chives:
If you like an onion zing to your salad, wash and dice up a few green onions. We call them scallions in Ireland. Place a little pile on the plate so salad eaters can add a few pieces to each combination bite they piece together.
An alternative to green onions is chopped fresh chives. Simply add a little pile of chives, resisting the temptation to sprinkle them all over everything on the plate.
Carrot and Raisin Salad:
Carrot and raisin salad is another favorite option for an Irish salad plate.
Choose it to compliment potato salad or instead of coleslaw. This mixed salad features in many Irish restaurants to accompany quiche or as a side salad.
Pasta salad, or a Moroccan couscous salad are delicious too.
And you can even add a little tuna instead of the deli meat. The choices are endless. Let your imagination run wild. The key is not to mix the salad components.
And there you have it! All the essential and optional ingredients required to assemble an Irish salad plate. And once you’ve created your masterpiece, you simply have to eat it.
Now Irish people tend to hold a fork upside down in their left hands when eating a salad.
Using a knife, they add a few morsels from a selection of the salad ingredients, onto the back of a fork, creating a slightly different flavor profile in each and every bite.
I hope you get the picture. That’s the crazy back of the fork eating method used all over Ireland and the UK.
Or maybe it’s the correct way to hold cutlery. Or should I say silverware????? 🙂 🙂 🙂
Here’s a printable recipe. This recipe ingredient list is for just one serving to keep it simple.
- 3 leaves butter lettuce
- 1 hard boiled egg
- 3 slices deli sliced ham and/or turkey
- 1 medium tomato vine ripened
- ¼ cup cheddar cheese grated
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1 dessert spoon in Ireland and salad cream can be substituted.
- CHOOSE 3 TO 4 ITEMS FROM THE FOLLOWING....
- 6 slices English cucumber peeled
- 4 slices pickled beets.
- 2 tablespoons coleslaw 2 dessert spoons in Ireland.
- 2 tablespoons potato salad 2 dessert spoons in Ireland.
- 2 tablespoons cottage cheese 2 dessert spoons in Ireland.
- 2 tablespoons carrot and raisin salad 2 dessert spoons in Ireland.
- 2 tablespoons green onions chopped
- Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.
- Clean the tomato and cut into wedges or quarters.
- Peel a 3 inch section of an English cucumber and slice.
- Roll the slices of deli meat.
- Place the lettuce leaves on a dinner plate.
- Add each ingredient on top of the lettuce leaves, arranging in a circle around the plate.
- Do not toss the ingredients before serving.
For extra servings you can do the math. Simply multiply the ingredient quantities by the number of people you wish to treat to a delicious Irish salad.
Which Ingredients Would You Choose?
Have you got a favorite ingredient for your Irish salad?
Let us know in the comment section. I’m looking forward to a good chat about Irish salad.
Happy summer salad days to all.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
I often receive emails from readers about sourcing Irish ingredients in America, so I thought it might be good to include that information here.
Salad cream and Irish cheeses are available online from Food Ireland, so I’ve included their links below.
To comply with US disclosure regulations, I need to let you know the following links are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission should you make a purchase through my website. The price you pay is not affected. 🙂
And if you’re a Pinterest subscriber and would like to pin this recipe to your boards, here’s a Pinterest friendly graphic.
Plus all my recipes can be found on Irish American Mom’s Recipe Index Page.