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Colcannon - Irish Comfort Food at its Best

Updated on December 9, 2011

Colcannon

Colcannon
Colcannon | Source

Colcannon

Buttery Potatoes and Cabbage

Although Colcannon is not well known in the United States – it should be. A very close cousin – mashed potatoes - is known all over this country. Colcannon – which means white headed cabbage is Irish, is a very simple dish containing mashed potatoes, cabbage, and butter. There are additional ingredients that pop up from time to time as well – milk, cream, salt and pepper, bacon, onions, leeks, green onion and bacon or ham are all acceptable additions. The dish is meant to be simple and filling as well as delicious – and it’s all of those things and more.

Colcannon is usually served family style, with a well in the center of the mashed potatoes. Melted butter is poured into this well, with the intention that everyone take a forkful, and dip each bite into the melted butter before eating. You gotta love anything where each bite is intended to carry maximum melted butter. All recipes call for cabbage – but some insist that only kale be used – which is a cousin to our everyday white cabbage. In my head it doesn’t make sense that ‘white headed cabbage’ be referring to a dark green vegetable, but the world is full of strange things, huh?

Colcannon is also traditionally served at Samhain, or the day after Halloween – November 1st. I’ve seen references to a tradition in which small coins or tokens were placed in the dish and each was meant to foretell the fortune of the recipient for the coming year. However, I’ve also seen this more commonly discussed in reference to Barmbrack, a fruited soda bread more commonly. It’s quite possible it’s a regional difference. Frankly both are yummy, so feel free to put whatever tokens you like in any food you choose to serve. Just warn your diners so they don’t ingest something unintentionally.

Colcannon is one of those dishes like pumpkin pie in the US. Everyone in Ireland knows what it is, but it’s not eaten much beyond once a year. The Irish Folklore Commission even lists a song about it. I’ll post that right after the recipe. It’s awesome. Give this a try next St. Patrick’s Day – or whenever else you might be feeling a little Irish. Sing the song too. I won’t tell.

Colcannon

Colcannon Recipe

Colcannon

4 large russet or Irish potatoes, peeled and cubed

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup milk, whole preferably

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup finely shredded cabbage

½ cup (4 pieces) bacon, crisped and chopped*

4-6 green onions, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, place the potatoes, 1 Tbl of salt, and enough water to just cover the tops of the potatoes. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer until just fork tender, about 20 minutes.
  2. In a second saucepan, place shredded cabbage and 1 tsp salt. Add ¼ cup water, and bring to a simmer. Steam cabbage for just about ten minutes. You want to soften it, but not enough that it becomes too soft. A little resistance or crunch is needed.
  3. Once the cabbage is tender, add the milk and ½ stick of butter. Add several cranks of black pepper. Bring temperature up just until milk is hot and butter is melted. Don’t allow it to boil. Stir in green onion and the bacon or country ham.
  4. When potatoes are tender, drain and return to the hot, dry pot. Reserve a cup of the potato cooking liquid. Mash potatoes, stirring in enough of the hot milk to facilitate. If you need a little more liquid, add some of the potato cooking water. Be careful – the cooking liquid is very salty, as is the bacon/ham. Use up the milk first. Make sure you stir in all of the solids from the hot milk – the green onion, bacon, and cabbage.
  5. To serve, mound potatoes in a serving bowl. Make a well in the center and place the remaining half stick of butter, melted.

*You can also use country ham – the salt cured kind – if you wish. Normally, I wish.

Irish Colcannon Song

Did you ever eat colcannon
when 'twas made with yellow cream
And the kale and praties blended
Like the picture in a dream?

Did you ever take a forkful
And dip it in the lake
Of heather-flavored butter
That your mother used to make?

Oh, you did, yes you did!
So did he and so did I,
And the more I think about it,
Sure, the more I want to cry.

Did you ever eat colcannon
when 'twas made with thickened cream
And the greens and scallions blended
Like the picture in a dream?

Did you ever scoop a hole on top
To hold the melting cake
Of clover-flavored butter
Which your mother used to make?

Did you ever eat and eat, afraid
You'd let the ring go past,
And some old married sprissman*
Would get it at the last?

God be with the happy times
When trouble we had not,
And our mothers made colcannon
In the little three-legged pot.

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