If there is any truly traditional Irish dish, this is it. It sounds very ordinary, potato and cabbage, and indeed there is nothing at all complex about making it, but the marriage of floury potatoes, wilted greens and rich butter makes for the ultimate in comfort food.
It is tasty, filling and easy to make, warming and delicious to eat. Just the thing on a cold winter’s night in front of the fire!
There are few foods so popular and loved that they have a whole song about them, and Colcannon has a really great song in its praise.
There is not much ‘video’ in this YouTube offering, but Mary Black’s bell like voice, along with those of the rest of the Black family, pay wonderful homage to this simple meal and its place in Irish life.
Two recipes here, one for traditional Colcannon with mashed potatoes and another for a very popular (in this house anyway!) ‘modern version’ using caramelised cabbage.
Traditional Colcannon Recipe
- 4 lbs (1.8kg) potatoes, or about 7-8 large potatoes (‘old’ potatoes or russet potatoes are best, waxy potatoes won’t do)
- 1 green cabbage or Kale
- 1 cup ( 7 fl oz, 240 ml) milk (or cream)
- 1 stick (4oz, 120g) butter, divided into three parts
- 4-5 scallions (green onions), chopped
- Salt and Pepper
- Fresh Parsley or chives
Not everyone adds scallions to colcannon, but they do add something worth having in my opinion.
Peel and boil the potatoes. Remove the core from the cabbage, slice it thinly, and put into a large saucepan. Cover with boiling water from the kettle and keep at a slow rolling boil until the cabbage is just wilted and has turned a darker green. This can take anything from 3-5 minutes depending on the cabbage. Test it and don’t let it overcook, if anything it should be slightly undercooked.
When the cabbage is cooked, drain it well, squeeze to get any excess moisture out, then return to the saucepan. Add one third of the butter and cover. Leave it covered and in a warm place, but not on a burner, with the butter melting gently into it while you continue.
When the potatoes are soft, drain and return the saucepan, with the drained potatoes in, to a low burner, leaving the lid off so that any excess moisture can evaporate. When they are perfectly dry, add the milk to the saucepan along with a third of the butter and the chopped scallions if you are using them. Allow the milk to warm but not boil – it is about right when the butter has fully melted into it and it starting to steam.
With a potato masher or a fork mash the potatoes thoroughly into the butter/milk mixture. Do NOT pass through a ricer or, worse, beat in a mixer as it will make the potatoes gluey and disgusting.
Mix the cabbage thoroughly through the mashed potato.
Before serving season with a little salt and sprinkle with fresh parsley or chives. Most importantly, make a well in the centre of the mound of potato and put the last third of the butter in there to melt.
Modern Colcannon Recipe
I made this once just because I had the ingredients and not a lot else to hand, and wondered if it would work. It is not really colcannon at all I suppose, but does share a lot of ingredients and we always refer to it as ‘modern colcannon’. The caramelised cabbage has a wonderful flavour, it was hugely popular and is now a fairly regular dish in our house.
- 2 lbs (1kg) potatoes, or about 3-4 large potatoes
- 1 green cabbage
- ½ cup (4fl oz, 120 ml) milk
- ½ stick (2oz, 60g) butter
- 3 large leeks, sliced
- 1 cup Bacon bits or small cubes of bacon
- 1 cup (8fl oz, 240 ml) boiling water
- 1 cup (4oz, 120g) grated cheddar
You need to prepare the cabbage in advance, start it about 1½ hours before you need to eat.
Put the bacon bits and the thinly sliced leeks into a non-stick pan, without any additional fat, and fry gently until the bacon is just browning and the leeks softening.
Discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, remove the core and slice thinly. Add to the pan with the leeks and bacon. There will seem to be too much cabbage, but is gets smaller as it cooks. Stir the mixture on the pan over a high heat until the cabbage starts to brown at the edges. Then add the cup of boiling water, turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for one hour (trust me on this!). You will need to check from time to time that the water had not fully evaporated, if it has, top it up a little.
After an hour, remove the lid, turn the heat up to high and stir the mixture until it becomes dry – this will probably take about 5-10 minutes. Both cabbage and leeks should be browned and very soft.
About 15 mins before the hour is up, put the potatoes on to boil. When cooked, mash as above, using all the milk and butter.
Put the mashed potato into an oven proof dish, cover with the cabbage mixture and sprinkle the top with the grated cheddar. Place under a hot grill (broiler) until the cheese is bubbling.
Serve with a green salad, it’s a meal in itself.