Colcannon? At Halloween? Most Americans think of colcannon as a tradtional St. Patrick’s Day dish, but colcannon was originally associated with Halloween in Ireland.
There are many, many variations of the basic colcannon recipe. Some call for meat like ham or bacon, some for regular onions, others for green onions or leeks. Some recipes insist on Savoy cabbage while I always associate curly kale with colcannon.
So what is the most traditional, most accurate reinterpretation of this traditional dish? Since the ingredients used to make colcannon grew abundantly in Irish country gardens, the Irish cook literally used whatever she had on hand, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact right combination of ingredients.
A bit of old blarney revolves around colcannon and unmarried women. Young Irish girls in years gone by were blindfolded and sent out to the garden at Halloween to pick a cabbage. A ring was then hidden in the colcannon made with said cabbage. Whomever found the ring on their plate was said to be the next to marry.
Another old Halloween colcannon tale tells how unmarried women put the first and last bite of colcannon into a stocking and hung it on their front door. The next unmarried man to grace that door was said to be her intended husband.
Who needed matchmakers if a stocking of colcannon did the trick? I wonder how long it was left hanging there. Maybe it was the smell of stinky, old cabbage that eventually attracted a curious, unsuspecting bachelor.
So enough of the storytelling, let’s move on to my recipe for this ever-so-Irish dish.
- 3 lbs russet potatoes
- 2 minced shallots
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions (also called scallions)
- 4 cups chopped fresh kale
- 4 ounces butter
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)
The first step to colcannon is making mashed potatoes. Peel the potatoes, and cut them into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Cut each potato into quarters or eighths depending upon how large they are.
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water, bringing the water to an inch above the potatoes.
Season the water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring the potato water to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
Drain the potatoes and set them aside while you prepare the onions and kale. I like to cover the cooked potatoes with a clean dish cloth under the lid of the pot. This helps absorb the steam the potatoes give off, but keeps them warm while waiting.
I think colcannon has been made with every kind of onion ever grown, from big yellow onions to leeks to scallions. I like the milder flavor of shallots combined with the slight crunch of green onions (known as scallions in Ireland).
Mince the shallots finely.
Next , finely slice the green onions, both stems and bulbs.
Clean and chop the kale, or do as I do. Buy a pre-washed, pre-chopped bag of kale. Even when I do this I look through the kale and remove any tough or thick-looking stalks.
Melt 2 ounces of the butter in the bottom of a large skillet.
Add the shallot and saute for 2 minutes.
Next add the kale and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until it wilts.
Many people use cabbage for colcannon. I like to use kale because it is so easy to cook it in a large skillet. Cabbage usually requires boiling to get it tender enough to mix through the mashed potato. So I take the easy route and use kale. I also like the flavor kale adds to the dish.
Throw in the chopped green onions and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
Now it is time to give those spuds some attention. Mash them with a potato masher. Add the last 2 ounces of butter and the half and half.
I only use about 1/2 cup of half and half, but feel free to add up to a cup, depending on how loose you like your mashed potatoes. I just don’t like sloppy spuds so I limit the amount of liquid I add.
I like half and half for this dish rather than milk. In years gone by our ancestors would have skimmed the creamy milk from the top of the churn to make this dish. Others would have used the “top of the bottle” in the days when milk was delivered to homes in glass, pint bottles. Half and half is the closest thing to the “top of the bottle”.
Time for greens and mash to meet.
Mix them thoroughly together with a potato masher. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. I like to use white pepper. I just don’t like the look of black pepper flecks through my potatoes.
And there it is, colcannon.
To serve colcannon, make a well in the center and add a knob of butter, which as it melts adds to the delicious flavors of this traditional Irish dish.
For anyone looking for a husband, don’t forget the old tales, and go ahead and toss in a ring. Just make sure all those eating are pre-warned to avoid any ring swallowing incidents.
Here is the printable recipe:
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom