Colcannon: An Irish Classic, Lovely, Gold and Green

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us and I yearn for colcannon. For those who aren’t familiar with this traditional Irish dish, it combines creamy, rich mashed potatoes with cooked cabbage or kale, and is often served with ham or bacon, creating what has to be the ultimate comfort meal, perfect for a chilly March day. It’s also a great way to use winter produce.

A quick Google search will turn up dozens of colcannon recipes, but over the years I’ve developed my own using both cabbage and kale. I also incorporate bacon directly into the dish, because, well, it’s potatoes. And bacon. Together.

One other thing. I was doing a little research on colcannon and a number of internet sources mentioned an interesting trick-or-treat-style tidbit. Apparently, some old Irish Halloween traditions call for serving colcannon with a ring, small prizes, or even coins buried beneath the creamy goodness. If you found the ring you were considered next to marry (I guess if you were already married the deal was off); if you came across one of the prizes or coins – and didn’t end up breaking a tooth – Yay!

I’m not sure I’d recommend risking a lawsuit with the hidden swag, but colcannon is pretty terrific just for its own sake. If you don’t already have a colcannon recipe, you’re welcome to try mine below. Happy St. Pattie’s Day!

Colcannon
Yield: 10 – 12 servings
(This recipe may be halved if you aren’t feeding an army of friends and family.)

5 pounds potatoes, peeled and large diced (I use Yukon Golds)
8 cups chicken broth (preferably low-sodium, but not no-sodium), 1 cup reserved
Water as necessary
12 Tbspn unsalted butter, plus more for serving
1-1/2 cup hot whole cream line milk (I use Trader’s Point Creamery)

1 lb. bacon, diced
3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small head cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 lb. kale, washed, tough stems removed, and chopped
Reserved 1 cup of chicken stock
Water as necessary

1 small bunch of chives or 6 scallions, finely snipped or sliced
Chopped parsley leaves to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot or Dutch oven, pour the 7 cups of chicken stock over the potatoes; you may add water as necessary to cover the potatoes by about 2 inches of liquid. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook potatoes until they are fork tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and return to hot pot.

Add the 12 Tbspn of butter to the potatoes and mash until butter is mostly melted. Add the hot half-and-half, a little bit at a time, mashing between additions until you get a very thick but easy-to-stir mash. If you don’t use all the half-and-half that’s okay. If you feel like you want to add more, wait until after the addition of the cabbage and kale as they will contribute some liquid to the mash. Cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a very large sauté pan or another Dutch oven, sauté the bacon over medium high heat until just crispy. Remove and set aside. Carefully remove all but about 2 Tbspn of the rendered bacon fat. Add the garlic and heat, stirring constantly, just until you can smell it, 30 seconds or less

Add the cabbage and kale; toss with tongs to coat with the fat and let wilt down for about 5 minutes, tossing frequently with tongs to prevent burning. Add the reserved 1 cup of chicken stock and cover. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage and kale are tender, 10 – 15 minutes. You want most of the cooking liquid to boil away, but you may add a little water at a time if necessary; you don’t want the cabbage and kale to brown much or they may be bitter.

Once the cabbage and kale are tender, drain thoroughly in a colander, pressing with a spatula to squeeze out excess liquid. Add the cabbage and kale mixture, along with the reserved cooked bacon pieces, to the mashed potatoes. Turn heat to very low to keep the mixture warm and stir to combine thoroughly; add any remaining or additional half-and-half if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir once again. Move to a large, warm serving bowl and garnish with a few pats of softened or melted butter, the chives or scallions, and chopped parsley.

Serve immediately.

About the AuthorLorrie Wehr is an Indianapolis writer and sometimes-artist who believes sharing good food is the key to a good life.