Citizens – a hearty and heartfelt “Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit” to you all – Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While the legendary parade is rightly canceled this year due to COVID-19, the gustatory spirit of the Emerald Isle can still be easily enjoyed at home with that most simple yet profound of Irish dishes – colcannon! As promised in My previous post, this shall be the first recipe of several designed to not only be easy to make with pantry-staple ingredients, it is easy to make for those of us sheltering in place for COVID-19.
Colcannon (Irish: cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”) is a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage. Colcannon is most commonly made with only four ingredients: potatoes, butter, milk and kale.
Irish historian Patrick Weston Joyce defined it as “potatoes mashed with butter and milk, with chopped up cabbage and pot herbs”. It can contain other ingredients such as scallions (spring onions), leeks, Laverbread, onions and chives. Some recipes substitute cabbage for kale.
There are many regional variations of this staple dish. It was a cheap, year-round food. It is often eaten with boiled ham or Irish bacon. As a side dish it goes well with corned beef and cabbage.
As eruditely noted on What’s Cooking America:
During the 1600 and 1700’s in Europe and Ireland, potatoes, cabbages, and leeks were considered the food of the common man so it was inevitable that a dish would evolve that combines all the ingredients. The word colcannon is from the Gaelic term “cal ceannann” which means white-headed cabbage. It is also believed to be a derivative of the old Irish “cainnenin” translated as garlic, onion, or leek.
In Ireland, colcannon is served as a special treat with ham or Irish bacon. The Irish tradition is to serve colcannon as the main dish for Halloween festivities and refer to the evening as “Colcannon Night”. Colcannon is used for the foretelling of marriages. Just as Americans have the fun superstition of the single young lady who catches the wedding bouquet will be the next to marry. Young single Irish women hope to find the ring hidden in their plate of colcannon. A blindfolded, unmarried woman is to pick the head of cabbage or kale from the garden that is to be cooked in the colcannon dish.
Charms such as rings, thimbles, and coins are wrapped and hidden in bowls of colcannon. This is a particularly exciting eve for the young men or women. If a young unmarried girl is lucky enough to find a ring in her bowl, a marriage proposal could be soon waiting for her and she would likely marry within the year before the next Colcannon Night. Other young maidens would fill their stockings with their first and last spoonfuls of colcannon and hang them from the front door handle. It is believed that the first man through the door would become their future husband.
Irish immigrants that came to the United States, introduced colcannon to American cuisine and you will find it served in America more commonly on Saint Patrick’s Day. One of the favorite ways to enjoy a plate of colcannon is to make a large mountain shaped pile on your plate, then make a big well or hole in the center of the pile. A generous pat of butter is placed in the hole which quickly melts. Then cream is poured around the outside of the colcannon pile. One is to take a spoonful of colcannon and dip it into the well of melted butter and experience a bite of heaven.
1735 – Earliest reference to mashed potatoes and cabbages is found in the Diary of William Bulkely, of Bryndda, near Amlwch in Anglesey, who made two journeys to Dublin in 1735.
I happen to prefer the version of colcannon made with kale, but Savoy cabbage is also very traditional. I do suggest a bit of bacon fat mixed with the butter (Irish Kerrygold only, please!) to give a hint of smokiness, as well as the highly eccentric (but delicious) addition of a single clove of roasted garlic. Omit it for the traditional version. I also add in another eccentric touch – a hint of keffir for tang and essential probiotics useful in a pandemic to keep your digestion healthy. Again, omit for the classic recipe.
Citizens, this is a very easy and very traditional dish I hope you enjoy not only as part of your St. Patrick’s Day, but regularly! It’s the best mashed potato and greens you’ll ever have! Enjoy this with a traditional Irish stew and celebrate the holiday in true Irish style!
Battle on, the Generalissimo
The Hirshon Irish Mashed Potatoes And Greens – Colcannon ☘️
- Total Time: 0 hours
- 150g kale
- 6 firm, fat scallions
- 75g butter, plus extra to serve
- 100ml whole milk, or light cream
- 25ml kefir (TFD addition, replace with more milk or cream for traditional recipe)
- Salt and black pepper
- a bit of melted bacon fat (TFD addition, used in some recipes but not all)
- 1 roasted garlic clove, or to taste (TFD optional addition, omit for classic recipe)
- Scrub the potatoes clean, then put them into a large saucepan, with the larger spuds at the bottom. Cover with cold, salted water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, until just soft but not cooked through. Tip out two-thirds of the water, cover and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through – keep an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.
- Blanch the greens in salted, boiling water, until tender but not overly soft. Drain and finely chop with the scallions (or blitz briefly in a food processor until chopped, but not pureed).
- Once the potatoes are done, drain and put them back in the hot pan. Cover with a tea towel and leave to steam for five minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter and bring the milk or cream (and kefir, if using) to a simmer; keep both warm. Put a serving dish into a warm oven or fill with boiling water.
- Peel the potatoes, holding them in a tea towel to protect your hands, then mash or pass through a ricer. Add in garlic and a touch of bacon fat and mash further. Beat in the melted butter, followed by the milk, until the mash is of a consistency you like.
- Stir in the greens and season to taste.
- Spoon into the warmed dish, in the shape of a mound, put a big dent in the top and put a big knob of butter in it and serve immediately.
- Prep Time: 0 hours
- Cook Time: 0 hours
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 211.92 kcal
- Sugar: 3.09 g
- Sodium: 277.51 mg
- Fat: 19.54 g
- Saturated Fat: 11.24 g
- Trans Fat: 0.62 g
- Carbohydrates: 7.06 g
- Fiber: 2.04 g
- Protein: 4.19 g
- Cholesterol: 48.32 mg
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some flavourful and nutritious tweaks to this recipe—i’ll have to try this.
i had wondered if the “white-headed cabbage” (or kale, they are pretty interchangeable in gaelic) referred to a traditional method of making the dish which was similar to “cottage pie” or “shepherd’s pie”; i.e. the use of a layer of mashed potato to cover a dish of previously cooked—or freshly assembled earlier—ingredients so they could be heated in an oven without drying out, as well as for the additional nutrition and simple deliciousness of topping things with mashy-tates. as the colcannon was served, what remained in the dish got a little mixed-up, as well as lower in volume, so reheating it again in the oven wouldn’t be so good. hence any leftover colcannon, in the days before microwave ovens, was best warmed by turning it into “bubble and squeak”. those are so delicious that my gran always made ‘planned-overs’ of colcannon, ensuring a round of golden, crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside fried colcannon for next day. opinions vary on the best fat for frying: lard, bacon fat, and butter all work well.
mmmm. i didn’t do anything for st. patrick’s day this year, as A) we’re not irish, and B) we were not entertaining due to the quarantine orders…but now i long for some butter-topped colcannon goodness (and the next day’s bubble and squeak!)…your recipe, as always, has inspired.
hoping the generalissimo and his comrades are all hale and hearty!