Culinary Classic: Colcannon

“Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.”

When a dish inspires the lyrical connection between soothing recollections and mom making a family favorite, that’s comfort food with clout.

The focus of that ballad is colcannon, an Irish dish born of frugality from ingredients that were available even in the worst of times.

Originating from the 16th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe from the New World, colcannon became a year-round staple of the impoverished.

Today, it is a comfort-food classic, the kind of food that takes the blues away.

What’s In It?

As with any legendary recipe, there are the required ingredients of a traditional preparation, and then there are the variations.

Essentially, colcannon consists of mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage, cream, butter, salt, and pepper. If one were to add another ingredient it would most likely be leeks, scallions, onions, or chives.

As a Halloween tradition, small trinkets were buried in the dish at serving, including rings, small coins, thimbles, or other tokens.

Make It a Meal

While bangers and mash (mashed potatoes) is a traditional British pairing, the Irish equivalent is bangers and colcannon.

Bangers are traditional sausages from the British Isles. They were created during the food-rationing years of World War II. Basically, pork sausage is the primary ingredient and flavor component. They get their name because moist breadcrumbs were used to extend the available pork. When cooked, the moisture in the sausage would turn to steam and the sausage would explode in the pan with a “bang!”

Colcannon is a fitting side dish for any main course—corned beef, a roast of beef, lamb, pork, poultry, or seafood. Ham and bacon are also typical pairings, and it makes a fabulous addition to the breakfast table as an accompaniment to egg dishes and cured meats or other types of sausage.

How To Make It

Servings: 4

Ingredients

2 lbs. Potatoes (Yukon Gold or Russet are especially good choices)
2 tablespoons sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups (packed) shredded kale or cabbage
1 ½ cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions sliced fine

Directions

  1. Place potatoes in a small pot, season with salt, and cover with water. Boil over medium-high heat for 30–40 minutes. They are done when a fork or paring knife pierces the potato easily. Drain, cool slightly, and peel.
  2. While the potatoes cook, melt ¼ cup butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 cup cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted. Add cream and simmer for 3–4 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes and remaining 1 cup cabbage, then coarsely mash. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer colcannon to a large serving bowl and make a depression in the middle of the potatoes to create a well. Add the remaining remaining ¼ cup butter to the well and sprinkle with scallion.

Have you ever eaten or made colcannon? What kinds of additions would you make to make your own version? What are your favorite pairings? What’s your favorite Irish dish or Irish meal?

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