This is a recipe I have been making for years, because every other recipe I had tried struck me as bland. Please notice the absence of any word like “traditional” in the title. Today, I have just been reading a “rant” about “Traditional Irish Soda Bread,” which I found through a Karen Boatman’s “Home Plates” article. In many ways I have to agree with his sentiments.
When I look up a “traditional” recipe the first thing I do is spot ingredients that are not “native” to the country of origin. Of course this has led to interesting discussions in the past with my Chinese students (when I was teaching English in Chengdu in 1988) about whether or not peanuts and chilies were “native” to China. Be that as it may, being a Californian Foodie, I am more interested in the aroma, experience and flavor of a dish, rather than it’s being strictly “traditional” (except when I’m not!).
The “traditional” potato for Colcannon would be the Irish Lumper, which is a white waxy potato. Irish Lumpers are almost impossible to get these days, having been virtually wiped out by the potato blight. Small White Rose potatoes are the closest relative that most stores carry, but you may be able to find Irish Cobblers. I prefer to use Yukon Golds, for their better flavor.
Many “traditional Colcannon” recipes call for mashing the potatoes and then stirring in delicately sautéed cabbage. If you do this to a waxy potato you will end up with a pot of glue, because these potatoes do not mash well. If you wish to be traditional, you should “smash” these potatoes, crush them a bit to break them up so the juices from the vegetables can mix more thoroughly with the potatoes. Stir the vegetables in, but do not over work them.
Skins on! Most of the nutrients in a potato are in its skin. The Irish, in the early 1800’s, did not eat potatoes because they liked them or because it was the only crop that they grew. Like the dark history of German rye bread at the same time, it was the only crop that the people who owned the land that the Irish worked couldn’t sell elsewhere. If it is the only thing you have to eat you do not throw away any part of it (unless you are saving the peels to make Poitín).
1½ lb. small Yukon Golds
14.5 oz. chicken broth, low sodium
3+ Tbs. butter, separate uses
½ medium yellow onion, diced fine
½ head of cabbage, shredded fine
4-5 cloves garlic, pressed
Bunch green onion, sliced fine, green tops reserved
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Pare and halve or quarter the potatoes (depending on size). Do not remove the skin.
2. Boil potatoes in chicken stock until tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Just before potatoes are ready, sauté the yellow onion in two pats of butter in a large skillet.
4. When the onions are soft, about 5 minutes, add the shredded cabbage and continue sautéing, about 5 minutes.
5. Make a hole in the cabbage and onions, by pulling the vegetables to the edges of the skillet. Put a pat of butter in the open space and when it has melted add the white parts of green onion and the pressed garlic. Continue sautéing for 2 minutes.
6. Drain the remaining chicken stock from potatoes into the skillet with the vegetables and cook for a few minutes more.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Smash the potatoes with a spoon or potato masher. You do not want smooth mashed potatoes or large chunks, but something in between.
8. When the chicken broth has reduced enough, you do not want it to be too soupy or too dry, pour the vegetables into the smashed potatoes.
9. Add the green onion tops and more butter to taste and mix well, but do not over mix or it will turn “glue-y.”