Colcannon- the recipe

I vividly recall, not long after my arrival in the U.S., being informed that corned beef and cabbage was considered to be the traditional dish of Ireland. I had only once, that I remembered, partaken of this dish and that had been served with the apologies of an English friend who served it to a gathering in her small flat in Bedford, England. A student on a limited budget, she explained that it was as far as her housekeeping would stretch. She further explained that among her parent's generation the dish was strongly associated with the rationing and other privations of WWII--in short, that it was considered a lowly dish. Well, in her hands, and with a few shared bottles of stout, it was a far from lowly dish. I have dined well on it a number of times since then--I recall a very good version at a reception in Sheridan, Wyoming when the band was playing there for St. Patrick's day.
Good and all as corned beef and cabbage can be, however, no-one in Ireland would consider it the traditional dish of the country. A nice leg of lamb, most probably, would be considered a good and celebratory repast but in terms of an old, and traditionall
y revered, dish a plate of colcannon is your only man.
Colcannon is eaten at any and all times of the year but by custom should be eaten at Halloween. Another customary treat on Halloween is Barm Brack, a type of fruit bread. When I was a child my mother would put charms in both the Colcannon and the Barm Brack--as you're supposed to do. A button meant you would remain a bachelor and a thimble meant you would remain a spinster for the coming year. A ring meant you would get married and a sixpence meant you would come into wealth--if you were a child sixpence was wealth.
There are, maybe, hundreds of recipes for this dish--just check the web for example--and many people insist that theirs is the definite article--kind of like the French with Cassoulet or the Spanish with Paella.
So, I'll be general and approximate here; this is food and you should trust your instincts.

The recipe:

1 lb. kale or other dark cabbage
3 lbs. potatoes (Yukon Golds are best)
1 onion, chopped
1 stick butter
4 oz cream
Pinch of dill
Pinch of nutmeg or mace
Salt and white pepper to taste

Cook some kale--i.e. boil about 1 lb in lightly salted water. Kale is best, I think, but not required; any dark cabbage is better than a whiter cabbage--again my opinion--but whatever you like. Don't overcook--a little crunchy is good. Start the kale before you boil the potatoes. Drain it well and keep it warm.
Boil potatoes--about 3 pounds or so, again, in salted water (it's not the same to add salt to taste later--my rule). If you can get them, Yukon Golds are good. Peel, quarter them and boil them thoroughly--20 mins or more. No skins and no lumps. (My rule.)
Saute 1 onion (chopped) in about a tablespoon of butter, for about 5 minutes. Add 4oz of cream and 2 Tbs, or more, of butter, a big pinch of dill and a pinch of nutmeg or mace.
Heat through until butter is melted--a tip: don't add cold liquids to warm mashed potatoes and expect anything other than lumpy goo--you've been warned.
Assembly: Mash the potatoes, mightily, lovingly, with a potato masher or some comparable implement. DO NOT WHISK; DO NOT PUT IN A FOOD PROCESSOR; DO NOT PUT IN A BLENDER. Just mash them and leave no lumps--it's easy.
Chop the kale or cabbage finely
Melt the rest of the stick of butter and set aside.
In a deeply warmed bowl combine mashed potatoes, kale, onion-butter-cream mix and stir gently; check seasoning - you may need to add a little salt and maybe some pepper (I like white pepper in this dish).
Serve: Make a mound of the mixture on a warm plate. On top of the mound make a "crater" and fill with the reserved melted butter. Take spoonfuls/forkfuls of "foothill" and dip in "crater."
I've eaten the above with corned beef and cabbage--with which it has a wonderful affinity; with filet mignon and Port sauce; with rashers, tomatoes and kidneys-in-their-jackets at 4am and--God forgive me--wrapped in a tortilla, microwaved and eaten, over the sink, with salsa.
Depending on what you're serving it with, you might serve stout, buttermilk or, as with the filet mignon mentioned above, a nice claret.
OK. A lot of this is up to you--it takes a little courage to make a recipe one's own. I have witnessed the "execution" of many a fine recipe by different cooks and seen some others take simple dishes on to great heights. This can be a fine dish when done right and if you take your time it will yield to you.

Enjoy.

Mick



7 comments

  • Ien van Houten

    Ien van Houten

    The best thing to eat with colcannon is a good smoked sausage...And while I totally agree with the advice on mashing potatoes by hand, I have just recently discovered the joy of chopping kale really fine in the food processor.

    The best thing to eat with colcannon is a good smoked sausage...And while I totally agree with the advice on mashing potatoes by hand, I have just recently discovered the joy of chopping kale really fine in the food processor.

  • Sallie Tierney

    Sallie Tierney

    One of my favorite foods, and this is an elegant recipe. I make colcannon many times a year and rarely make it the same way twice - which is part of the fun. It's a one-dish meal when you add bacon or sausage! Lovely stuff.

    One of my favorite foods, and this is an elegant recipe. I make colcannon many times a year and rarely make it the same way twice - which is part of the fun. It's a one-dish meal when you add bacon or sausage! Lovely stuff.

  • Jonathan

    Jonathan Boulder, CO

    Delicious. This, along side some (vegetarian) sausages is a regular in our kitchen.

    Delicious. This, along side some (vegetarian) sausages is a regular in our kitchen.

  • Ann

    Ann USA

    Bok choy works really well!

    Bok choy works really well!

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