Autumn has arrived. The leaves on our trees are just starting to turn and fall. The days are obviously shorter: the nights longer. And, because there’s a distinct chill in the air, the central heating is back on.
As Mother Nature moves us gently from summer to winter, I find that I am making fewer foods that are light and healthy and more that are luxurious and hearty.
Colcannon, in particular, is as traditional as traditional Irish food gets. Known as Cál Ceannann in Irish, which literally means white-headed cabbage, it’s the stuff songs and poems are written about here. No kidding!: “Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream? With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.~ lyrics from a song sung by Mary Black
Irish Americans sometimes serve Colcannon on St. Patrick’s Day, but it is customary to eat it on 31st October in Ireland. There are, in fact, quite a few Irish traditions having to do with Colcannon and Halloween. For example, a very long time ago, bowls of Colcannon were left on the front doorsteps of Irish homes for wandering spirits in search of their earthly abode. It was also used for games of marriage divination, whereby charms (namely a ring for marriage and a thimble for spinsterhood) were hidden inside the fluffy mixture and bowls were then served to the young women living at home to foretell their future. And finally, Irish colleens sometimes hung socks, partially filled with Colcannon, on their front door on Halloween night in the belief that the first man through the door would be their future husband.
To be sure, such shenanigans do not (never have/never will) happen in our Irish home. Between the arguing over the ring and the unsightly mess of a potato-filled sock hanging from the front door…I’ll be having none of it. For us, Colcannon is simply a comforting side dish we enjoy year round…but most especially at this time of year.
900g/2 ½ lbs potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
110g/8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for serving
1 small green cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, washed and thinly shredded
8oz/1 cup milk (plus a little more if the potatoes are very dry)
4 scallions, green parts only, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by 1”. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until slightly tender, about 15 minutes. Drain off about two-thirds of the water. Put a lid on the saucepan, place the saucepan back on the hob (stove) and put on a gentle heat, allowing the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. (Keep a watchful eye on the potatoes at this point as you do not want them to burn.) When fully cooked, drain excess water and put softened potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Rice or mash potatoes. Set aside.
2. Return saucepan to hob over medium-high heat. Add butter. When melted, add cabbage and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes.
3. To the cabbage, add the milk and scallions, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
4. Add hot milk mixture to warm mashed potatoes and stir until smooth. (You may use a food mixer, but use the spade paddle for the mixing).
5. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a warm bowl. Serve immediately with a large pat of butter melting in the centre.
Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:
* Colcannon may be made ahead and reheated in a moderate oven.
* Leftover Colcannon may be made into potato cakes and fried in bacon fat until browned on both sides.
* Colcannon would be lovely served with Guinness Beef Stew!
* To hear Mary Black sing Colcannon click here.
* For a fascinating look at the history of Irish food click here.