AP – As St Patrick’s Day approaches, the potatoes, corned beef and cabbage are piled high in the supermarkets.
Millions of Americans claim some Irish ancestry and honour the patron saint of Ireland on March 17. But the holiday has an inclusive feel, and you don’t need to be Irish to celebrate.
One traditional St Patrick’s Day dish is colcannon, a classic Irish medley of potatoes and greens.
Potatoes were and remain one of the central foods of Irish cooking, and this dish celebrates the humble tuber with the addition of milk and cream, as well as whatever green vegetables and members of the onion family are available.
According to an old Irish cookbook called Feasting Galore, published in 1952 and written by Maura Laverty: “a heaped portion” of colcannon is served on each plate. “A well is made in the centre of the heap to hold a generous lump of butter. The colcannon is eaten from around the outside of the heap, each person dipping his fork first into the colcannon and then into the melting butter. The perfect companion to a class of colcannon is a glass of fresh buttermilk.”
(Also according to the old cookbook, “in the Midlands colcannon is called “Thump” and in the North and West it is called “Champ.”)
There are a whole lot of opinions on the right way to make colcannon.
The potatoes are non-negotiable, though what they are mashed with (milk, cream, butter, scallions, onions) is up for discussion. It‘s the greens that are cause for debate. Many recipes call for cabbage, another vegetable that sustained the Irish people for many years. Other recipes (even some very old ones) call for kale or other greens.
I have made colcannon with both, and frankly, I don’t know which I like better – so I made a version that combines them. The point is that in Ireland they would have made this dish with whatever was available, so we can use whatever greens make sense for our colcannon on St Patrick’s Day (or any other day some classic Irish comfort food is warranted.) Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Kosher salt for cooking the potatoes, plus one teaspoon more, or to taste
Two pounds Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Eight tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, divided
Half cup whole milk
Half cup light or heavy cream or half and half
Half cup sliced scallions or chopped onion
Half pound kale, tough stems removed, rinsed well, drained and sliced thinly into ribbons
Half pound shredded cabbage
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add a generous amount of salt, return to a boil, then add the potatoes (the water should cover the potatoes by at least two inches.) Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to simmer for 20 or so minutes, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a knife.
2. While the potatoes cook, melt two tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the kale and cabbage, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for six to eight minutes, until the vegetables have wilted and are lightly golden in some spots. Meanwhile, heat the milk and the cream together with the scallions in a pot over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for five minutes.
3. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the pot, and place the pot back over medium-low heat. Toss the potatoes in the hot pan occasionally for three minutes or so until they have begun to dry out (but not to brown). Remove the pan from the stove, and put the potatoes through a ricer, or mash with a potato masher until they are smooth, or as smooth as you like them. Return them to the pot.
4. Add one teaspoon salt, four tablespoons of the butter, and the hot milk and cream mixture to the potatoes and stir with a wooden spoon or a whisk until well combined. Add the kale and cabbage mixture, season with black pepper to taste, and stir until the vegetables are well-blended with the potatoes.
5. Serve the colcannon in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the colcannon, and put the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the centre of the well to melt. Alternately you can make a mound on each person’s plate, create a small well in the centre, and add a bit of butter to each portion.