Colcannon

by Kristin on October 30, 2012

Colcannon (cál ceannann, “white-headed cabbage”) is a traditional Irish potato dish eaten at Halloween. Frank Bruni, former food critic at the New York Times, might be perplexed by the Irish love affair with spuds, but here, they’re the stuff of poetry and song.

Did you ever eat colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?

Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry.
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made colcannon in the little skillet pot.

Like barmbrack, another Irish Halloween treat, charms can be hidden in colcannon — a ring means marriage, but a thimble dooms you to spinsterhood.

Colcannon is a first cousin to champ, another mashed potato dish that has scallions or chives instead of kale. In Irish Traditional Cooking, Darina Allen writes, “A common folk custom was to offer a bowl of champ to the fairies at Hallowe’en. This would be left on field posts or under trees, such as hawthorns or whitethorns, which where particularly associated with fairies.” Regional varieties of colcannon include using cabbage instead of kale or adding parsnips to the mash.

Whichever way you make it or whatever charms you put in it, colcannon is one of Ireland’s most iconic dishes.

Colcannon

Serves 4 as a side

You could use finely shredded Savoy cabbage instead of kale, though Darina Allen says in Forgotten Skills of Cooking that kale is the most traditional.

1 kg (2 lb) floury potatoes, such as Kerr’s Pink, Maris Piper or Yukon Gold
125 g (5 oz) butter
200 g (7 oz) kale, tough centre ribs removed and the leaves finely chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes and slice them 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick. Put them in a large pot of generously salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, then drain. Return the potatoes to the pot off the heat, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to sit for 5 minutes (this helps to dry out the potatoes, resulting in a fluffier mash).

Meanwhile, melt 25 g (2 tablespoons) of the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add in the chopped kale and cook for about 10 minutes, until it has softened and turned a vibrant green. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the milk and remaining 100 g (1/2 cup) of the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat, until the butter has melted. Mash the potatoes or press them through a ricer, then pour in the hot milk mixture and beat with a wooden spoon, stand mixer or electric mixer until the mash is fluffy and light. Stir in the cooked kale and some salt and pepper. Transfer the colcannon to a serving bowl, make a small well in the top and add in a pat of butter. Tradition says you should dip each forkful of colcannon into the little lake of melted butter.

In Irish Traditional Cooking, Darina Allen says that any leftover colcannon can be formed into potato cakes or farls and fried in bacon fat until crisp on both sides.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Crème de Citron October 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

Délicieux looking! One of the many reasons that Irish food is actually really good! The photo makes me want to have a big bowl of Colcannon (but it’s only breakfast time…).

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:13 am

Sure, spuds are good at any time of day. ;)

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Irma October 30, 2012 at 10:28 am

It looks really yummy!
I’ve just some black kale from my garden, I’ll try this recipe!
Miss so much Ireland and irish people… hope I’ll come back soon.
best regards from Italy :)

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:13 am

It will be even better with kale from your own garden. Thanks for saying hello from Italy!

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la domestique October 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I discovered your blog while researching barmbrack recipes on the web, and you’ve got a lovely space here. You’ve got a new fan! Happy Halloween!

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:12 am

Thanks so much! Happy Halloween to you too.

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Christina October 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm

How small is the world! This recipe is too a (winter) classic in Holland, especial with very cold days. We add a sausage with it, instead of spare ribs. We top it not with butter but with gravy sauce. I miss it in the winter. Living in Greece, growing my own kale (cause not available here) and my whole family loves it! Long time ago I introduced the Barmbrack into my baking repertoire, and is loved by many. How nice the traveling of recipes! Look forward to more news. Happy Halloween from here.

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:12 am

I was only just thinking that if you added some chopped cooked ham to the colcannon, it would pretty much be a complete meal in one bowl. Your Dutch version sounds delicious too, perfect for winter.

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Bunny Eats Design October 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I love champ but I never knew these were offered to faeries. I bet they couldn’t fly afterwards!

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:11 am

I only just found that out when I was researching colcannon. I love all the folklore that surrounds food in Ireland.

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Emily October 31, 2012 at 1:39 am

I know it’s not traditional, but…I lo-o-ove colcannon with sauteed cabbage.
SO GOOD.

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:10 am

Cabbage is perfectly acceptable in colcannon! The first time I made sauteed cabbage, using a Barefoot Contessa recipe, I couldn’t believe how good it was. I think I probably ate half of it straight from the pan.

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Judit @WineDineDaily October 31, 2012 at 2:46 am

Looks delicious! Love the recipe and the poetry… Happy Halloween from California

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:09 am

Thanks so much, Happy Halloween to you too!

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Caroline@Bibliocook October 31, 2012 at 10:54 am

That looks SO good. Dinner at yours, then?!

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:08 am

You know where I live! ;)

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Kristina October 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I miss Ireland so much, and I was only there for three weeks! Your blog is exactly how I remember it. Never did have colcannon (possibly because I was there in May, albeit a very cold May), but I’ll have to try it at home now.

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:08 am

Happy to hear the blog reminds you of your time here! Sounds like you have lots of good memories from your visit.

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Magda (@MagdasCauldron) November 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm

This is the most beautiful photo of mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen.
Potatoes are important in Polish cuisine as well, we can share recipes (soon I will post a recipe for one of my childhood recipes with potatoes), but I’ve checked there is no major poem or song about potatoes :( But we do have a song about tomatoes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlxelewpCY4

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Kristin November 9, 2012 at 7:03 am

Thanks, Magda! What is that tomato song about? The man looks quite upset over them!

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Magda (@MagdasCauldron) November 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

It’s actually a cabaret. He is upset, because it is autumn and winter is coming and it would be fine with him, but he cannot take that there won’t be any fresh tomatoes and he will miss their taste so much.

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Kristin November 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Don’t we all. ;)

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Nessa Robins November 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Colcannon is one of my all time favourite things to eat! I would serve it with every dish, if possible. Your photo, of the colcannon, is gorgeous!

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Kristin November 9, 2012 at 6:59 am

Thanks, Nessa!

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Web Design Wicklow November 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

That photo would make anyone feel hungry for starters :) My Polish friends agree that they need their spuds almost as much as we Irish do!

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Kristin November 17, 2012 at 8:13 am

I hadn’t realised that the Poles were such spud fanatics too!

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Katie December 13, 2012 at 10:57 am

With a nearly bare pantry we ended up having colcannon for dinner last night. The whole family cleaned their plates! Thanks for sharing this. Beautiful photography.

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Kristin December 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Thanks so much, Katie! Delighted to hear that you and all your family enjoyed it so much.

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Beth April 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm

SO happy to have found your blog! My boyfriend is from Ireland and has not been back home since he moved here 5 years ago. When he gets homesick, I try to cheer him up with foods that remind him of home. I remember him mentioning this, so I’ll be making it along side a stew for him soon!

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Kristin April 2, 2014 at 5:20 pm

There are few better cures for homesickness than food. Hope it hits the spot!

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