As with whiskey tomato soup, which I have reason to believe was introduced by Kieran’s Pub in Minneapolis, I think the appetizer called Fried Leprechaun legs was introduced in a Minnesota bar. I can’t prove it — I find a reference to a food called Leprechaun Legs offered by a bar called Crazy Horse in Indiana in 1995. But precisely what it was that Crazy Horse was selling isn’t mentioned.
The next year, a competing St. Paul bar named O’Gara’s introduced the snack to an event that is a sort of coming out party for local foods: The Minnesota State Fair, where most of the food is offered on a stick, for some reason, and where locals claim the corn dog was introduced. This time, the Pioneer Press was unimpressed, writing ” The serving of these lightly battered, deep-fried green beans is generous but there was no bean flavor. If you closed your eyes and took a bite, you’d never know what they were.”
The Star-Tribune was more impressed, and revealed what the sipping sauce was, saying the snack was “worth checking out: green beans, lightly battered (and teasingly spicy) and deep fried, with a chipotle ranch dressing.”
Serving fried green beans as leprechaun legs still seems to be an exclusively Minnesota tradition, and I wish I could say that’s the entire story, it’s Minnesotan, rah rah rah for Ski-U-Mah, and here our story ends. Alas, I cannot, as the only innovation here is the name. Fried green beans has an older history, and it seems to have originated in the Minneapolis of the Pacific Northwest, Portland. At least, that’s where I find the first reference to it, in the Oregonian, dated September 20, 1938. The paper even offers a recipe, which I shall reproduce:
I will note that this recipe lacks one of the essential steps of the leprechaun legs: bread batter. Alas, Minnesota cannot even claim that. The innovator for this recipe seems to have been Loretta Keller of San Francisco’s Bizou, who debuted batter-fried green beans with a fig dipping sauce in 1992, frying the vegetable tempura-style. “Although it sounds strange,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “the combination should be inducted into any best- dish hall of fame.”Soon, tempura-fried green beans started to appear on the menus of a number of San Francisco’s Asian fusion restaurants, and then, in 1997, jumped both to a new city and a new cuisine. According to The Orange County Register, the item was offered at Luciana’s at Newport Beach. According to the paper, “The long beans come to the table sizzling, with a tempura-like coating. They are best when hot, and the balsamic vinegar and mild garlic cream sauce add little to the mix.”
Tempura-fried green beans surged in popularity in the next few years, with an astonishing selection of sipping sauces, and, frankly, here is where I think the Irish pubs, even those in my home town, have gotten it wrong. You don’t make a food Irish simply by affixing an Irish name to it. No, it’s important to actually give it an Irish or an Irish-American flavor. I think tempura frying the green beans is fine, but it is with the dipping sauce that a cook can find the meal’s true Irish spirit.
Frankly, I’m not sure what might be best with this, but there are a variety of Irish and Irish-American sauces to experiment with. There is a mustard sauce that is popular with corned beef, made with mustard, vinegar, and horseradish, that might go nicely with the beans. The Irish are apparently fond of a parsley sauce, and that’s worth a shot; there’s also a cabbage cream sauce that sounds like an odd choice, but who knows? It might be paradise in the mouth.
Anyway, I guess I feel if you’re going to pretend to cut the legs off a leprechaun, the least you can do is dip them in something that’s pretending to be Irish.