Bicarbonate of soda….? I know we’re reaching the end of the national food holidays calendar here, and so we may be scraping the barrel on what foods we still have to highlight, but…bicarbonate of soda? Really?? Also known as sodium bicarbonate, or NaHCO3, bicarbonate of soda is an alkaline compound that, while sounding kind of scary, is found in many household cleaning products, detergents, and yes, even in the food you eat. Don’t be scared! It’s not a nasty chemical additive. It’s plain old baking soda! Because of its alkaline pH level, baking soda reacts to acidic compounds found in many baking batters, like vinegar, cream of tartar, and buttermilk. The reaction releases carbon dioxide, which makes the batter rise as it’s baked. And thus, you have bread, cake, pancakes, biscuits–so many baked goods come to life with the help of bicarbonate of soda!
(Sodium bicarbonate can be used for way, way more than just baking: it neutralizes stomach acids, helps extinguish fires by releasing carbon dioxide, works as a cleaning agent around the house, boosts the washing power of laundry detergent, helps whiten teeth, polishes silver, and helps absorb strong odors in the fridge or garbage can. It’s quite literally a miracle chemical that is safer than the vast majority of modern cleaning products out there. But enough of that–let’s get back to the food!)
Lots of baking recipes include baking soda as the chief leavening agent for breads, cakes, cookies, and muffins. But the most famous baking soda bread is, well, literally, the soda bread. Culinary cultures all around the world have used baking soda to make quick breads: the blending of the baking soda with an acidic agent in the batter, like buttermilk or cream of tartar, gives the bread a slightly sour taste. Irish soda bread is one of the most popular types of quick bread, and you can find oodles of loaves all around the city during St. Patrick’s Day. Traditional Irish soda breads are baked plain, made with low-gluten pastry flour and served unsweetened and unadorned, while Americans indulging in soda bread typically add sugar and raisins to the mix. You can find real, traditional soda bread at the old Irish pub known as Cronin & Phelan’s in Astoria. You wouldn’t expect to find an Irish restaurant doing well in such a deeply Mediterranean and Greek neighborhood, but Cronin & Phelan’s has been in town since the 1920s, and it’s kept up a lot of its speakeasy charm. Traditional Irish fare can be had here at any time of the day or night–a full Irish breakfast is offered for early birds. And every meal is accompanied by a basket of free, freshly baked Irish soda bread, the way they make it back on the Emerald Isle. If having great, authentic Irish soda bread wasn’t enough, Cronin & Phelan’s serves it for free! My favorite way to have my bicarbonate of soda 🙂
Cronin & Phelan’s
38-14 Broadway, Astoria
“A soft-spoken but spirited, silver-haired, unmistakably Irish gentleman, owner and executive chef Mike Peacock butchers all of the meat daily, and also preps the entrees. Recipes inspired by his mother, including a standout egg-studded potato salad and creamy whipped turnips, draw regulars from both Astoria and beyond. The Guinness pie is also mind-blowingly delicious. Meals commence with baskets of Irish soda bread, and sweet endings include homemade rhubarb pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.”–Boro Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“My first visit was Saturday night, where I had the Irish mixed grill and my bf had the Shepherd’s Pie. The friendly waitress started us out with the most delicious Irish soda bread rolls, and from that moment on I was sold. I have not had soda bread like that since my Irish grandmother passed away 10 years ago. I learned later that Cronin’s bakes them fresh on site, so that alone sets this place apart from your run of the mill pub.”–Kim K.
“What a perfect pub night! Guinness blew my mind and my belly. Shepherd’s pie was delectable, full of flavor. Complimentary soda bread was the perfect surprise and the waitstaff was so en point and charming. Love at first bite (and pint).”–Anna F.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!