For someone who's half-Irish, I'm embarrassed to admit that I only very recently learned about colcannon. This is a traditional Irish peasant side dish that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years and is assembled from leftovers -- typically potatoes, butter, milk, and coarsely chopped greens (usually cabbage, but sometimes kale).
There seems to be some disagreement as to when colcannon is traditionally served: Some people associate it with St. Patrick's Day (hooray!), while others like to eat it on Halloween night, which is the eve of the Celtic new year. Still, others say they enjoy it all year round -- and after trying it, I'm not going to argue with that!
But there's also something interesting about the dish ... some people think it can predict the future!
As the legend goes, cooks used to bury charms or coins inside the colcannon as a harbinger of good luck or wealth in the coming year. (And wouldn't you know it, typically "luck" or "wealth" came in the form of a spouse.) Here's what particular charms were said to predict:
- A button meant you would remain a bachelor for the coming year.
- A thimble meant you would remain a spinster.
- A ring meant you would get married.
- A coin meant you would come into wealth.
And for those who weren't so lucky as to find a coin, there was always this option: Filling their socks with colcannon and hanging them from the handle of the front door in the belief that the first man through the door would be their future husband. Uh, anyone else think filling socks with potatoes sounds like a complete and utter turn-off?
I think it's about time for less lore and more recipes, don't you?
Colcannon from Saveur
- 4 lbs. large red potatoes (about 9), peeled and quartered
- 12 tbsp. butter
- 1⁄2 small head cabbage, cored and thickly sliced
- 2 lightly packed cups chopped greens (any combination of spinach, parsley, kale, or broccoli or cauliflower leaves)
- 1 1⁄3 cups milk
- 4 scallions, green part only, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Steam potatoes over medium heat until tender -- about 45 minutes.
Bring 1/2 cup water and 2 tbsp. of the butter to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add cabbage, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until just tender -- about 15 minutes. Drain well, discarding liquid, and set aside.
Melt 2 tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped greens and sauté until just wilted -- about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and cook until heated through, 1–2 minutes, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Put milk, scallions, and remaining butter into a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until scallions are softened, 1–2 minutes, then add to cabbage mixture and cover to keep warm.
When potatoes are done, add to cabbage mixture and mash with a potato masher until fluffy and smooth with some chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Is colcannon a part of your St. Patrick's Day festivities?
Image via Mercury Jane/Flickr