Colcannon is an Irish potato side dish made with mashed potatoes, onions, and cabbage or kale. It’s one of Ireland’s most famous traditional dishes. But did you know it is most closely associated with Halloween in Ireland.
Colcannon? At Halloween? Most Americans think of Irish colcannon as a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish, but colcannon was originally associated with Halloween in Ireland.
Table of Contents
What is Colcannon?
Colcannon is mashed potato mixed with a green cooked and shredded vegetable such as cabbage or kale.
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 Irish colcannon recipes insist on Savoy cabbage while I always associate curly kale with traditional Irish colcannon.
I love kale – it’s healthy and nutritious and grows well in Ireland. It can be sautéed with bacon for a delicious side, or added to soups for extra iron and other micronutrients. Kale packs a punch when it comes to versatile veggies.
So what is the most traditional, most accurate reinterpretation of this Irish Halloween 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.
My version contains creamy mashed potatoes mixed with curly kale, scallions, and green onions. Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!
Colcannon And Halloween
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.
Colcannon on Saint Brigid’s Day
On February 1st the Irish celebrate Saint Brigid’s Day. She is known as “Mary of the Gael” and is also one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saint Patrick.
As with most big occasions, her celebration would not be complete without a special meal. In olden times in rural Ireland, the traditional meal served on St. Brigid’s Day consisted of mashed potatoes and freshly churned butter. These potatoes were made extra special for the festive meal by adding some chopped cabbage or kale to create colcannon.
Other festive treats included oat cakes, apple cakes or barm brack washed down by a cup of tea. After eating their meal together Irish families would weave their St, Brigid’s Crosses to hang in their homes over the coming year.
So enough of the storytelling, let’s move on to my recipe for this ever-so-Irish dish.
If you would like to make the dish you’ll find the printable recipe at the end of the post.
Ingredients for Irish Colcannon
Here you’ll find a quick list of what you’ll need for this recipe. Check out the printable recipe at the bottom of this post for US and Metric equivalent versions of the recipe. There you can choose the measurement system that works best for you.
- russet potatoes
- minced shallots
- chopped green onions (also called scallions)
- chopped fresh kale
- half and half
- salt (to taste)
- white pepper (to taste)
Ingredient Tips and Substitutions
Colcannon can be made with cabbage rather than kale if you wish.
I used half and half to make my mashed potatoes, but in Ireland my mom and granny always used heavy cream for this dish. You can choose whole milk if you wish to cut down on the fat content.
I do not recommend skim milk since the potatoes turn out far less creamy, but if your diet requires less fat then by all means make this substitution.
Directions for Colcannon
Here you’ll find step-by-step photographic instructions to help you recreate this recipe successfully. There are plenty of tips included along the way.
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 ½ 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 ½ 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.
Colcannon and melted butter – a match made in heaven.
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.
Happy Halloween or Saint Patrick’s Day or simply happy day, for whenever you might be making these colcannon potatoes.
Colcannon Recipe Card
Here’s the printable recipe card.
- 3 pounds russet potatoes
- 2 shallots minced
- ½ cup green onions chopped – called scallions in Ireland.
- 4 cups kale fresh kale chopped
- 4 ounces butter
- ½ cup half and half (mixture of milk and cream for those in Ireland)
- ¾ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper or to taste
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into eighths. Place them in a large pot and cover with cold water by about an inch. Season the water with ½ teaspoon of salt.
- Bring the potatoes to a boil, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until fork tender. Drain the potatoes, then cover with a clean dish cloth and the lid of the pot.
- Melt 2 ounces of butter in a large skillet. Add the minced shallot and saute for 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped kale and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until wilted.
- Add the green onions and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Mash the potatoes. Add 2 ounces of butter, the half and half and the wilted greens to the potatoes. Mix them through the potatoes with a masher.
- Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
- Serve hot in bowls or as a side. Make a well in the center of each serving of colcannon. Place a knob of butter to melt in the potato well.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
Some Irish people prefer to add green onions to their mashed potatoes, and this is called champ.
And many like to roast their spuds Irish style.
Whichever you prefer, I hope you enjoy your spuds, like most Irish people all over the world.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad –Irish American Mom
Pronunciation – slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad – rhymes with parade
Here are some more recipes and ramblings you might enjoy…
You may enjoy some more Irish recipes. Check out my full recipe index.