Sunday, February 26, 2012

Colcannon - an Irish dish

On the Prairies, cabbage, root vegetables and mashed potatoes were staples. That's because that was what was commonly grown on the farms, and in lean times, that was the food that available. The same is true in Atlantic Canada, where dishes such as "bubble and squeak" or "hash" varieties with potatoes mashed with yams or carrots (a traditional orange colored dish) are reminiscent of British roots, especially when combined into tasty, economical dishes. The Irish are no strangers to famine, and they also have traditional dishes combining those foods most readily available. Colcannon, a combination of onions (leeks or scallions), cabbage and potatoes, is a well-known and very tasty Irish concoction. In the country kitchen, the onions would probably have been sauteed and put in a large pot together with the cabbage and potatoes to cook to a soft stage, then seasoned to taste and mashed with milk or cream and butter. The following recipe is a little more sophisticated and includes ham (optional) but still has the trademark Irish green color.

  • 3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/4 cups hot milk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • 1 (1-pound) piece ham or Irish bacon, cooked the day before (optional)
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
  1. Steam the potatoes in their skins for 30 minutes. Peel them using a knife and fork. Chop with a knife before mashing. Mash thoroughly to remove all the lumps. Add 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces. Gradually add hot milk, stirring all the time. Season with a few grinds of black pepper. 
  2. Boil the cabbage in unsalted water until it turns a darker color. Add 2 tablespoons butter to tenderize it. Cover with lid for 2 minutes. Drain thoroughly before returning it to the pan. Chop into small pieces. 
  3. Put the ham (optional) in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes until tender. Drain. Remove any fat and chop into small pieces. Bacon may be used instead, if desired, or the dish can be prepared without any meat.
  4. Add cabbage, scallions, and ham to mashed potatoes, stirring them in gently. 
  5. Serve in individual soup plates. Make an indentation on the top by swirling a wooden spoon. Put 1 tablespoon of butter into each indentation. Sprinkle with parsley.

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