Colcannon. An Irish classic. How appropriate for St. Patrick’s day. I love the name. Sounds as if it should be something very exotic doesn’t it? Wikipedia tells me it comes from the Irish cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”. Basically, what we have here is mashed potato and cabbage.
Surely there can be no more versatile foodstuff on the planet than the potato. It is hugely taken for granted. For me, along with the chilli pepper, it was the greatest benefit for Europe to come out of the Columbian exchange (aka Grand Exchange). Surely, this story has to be the great food story in the history of mankind. It is a centuries long story of global power politics, population explosion, massive social revolution and upheaval. Don’t believe me? Then go and look it up for yourself. Brought to Britain by Sir John Hawkins in 1563, the potato seems to have mostly taken hold in Ireland in the mid 1600s. I can think of no better example of the mayhem and upheaval brought about by the exchange than the long association that Ireland has with the potato. This plant would, of course, have been unknown to the 5th century missionary, St Patrick, who bought Christianity to Ireland.
How to make Colcannon.
If anyone reads the postings on this blog they will have noticed the absence of quantities, precise technique, method and so on. That’s because this is a food blog and not a recipe blog or a cooking blog or a technique blog. I you want that kind of thing there are plenty of others around that can do a far better job than I ever could. If there is a food creation where precise quantities and method are less appropriate than Colcannon then I can’t think of it.
All you need: potato, cabbage, parsley, butter, milk, salt and pepper.
Chop it up:
Cook the potato until soft. Then mash with some butter and parsley. A splash of milk helps bring it together. Note: I’m using a hand masher. You can whizz it if you want but this gives a better texture. If it shouldn’t be quite consistent and I end up with the odd ‘solid’ bit that’s great. I like that.
Then add in the cabbage which I’ve sweated down, kind of how you might sweat down onion, in some more butter and a smidgen of olive oil. I like quite a big dice and to put plenty in, roughly a third of the total, maybe more.
As you can see this is simplicity itself and quick too. In contrast, I hope you will also consider the long and complicated history that goes with it.
A word on mashed potato: Recently, I’ve seen all to many tv chefs producing a sad, gloopy, soupy, puree of butter, milk and potato and calling it “mashed potato”. Yuk. At the end of the day mashed potato should be just that, potato mashed. Not pureed but mashed. You only need a very small amount of butter and just a splash of milk to bring the thing together. I have no objection to creamed pureed potato, you understand, but I do like it to have body and bite. I blame modern cheffery which, all to often, leads us to believe there is always a “right” way to do things. There isn’t. The everyday home cook when faced with a chopping board should be encouraged to do what is right for them. If I don’t like my salmon slightly pinky in the middle then I won’t make it that way. Any TV chef who says salmon should be slightly pinky in the middle can sod off. It is time for the masses to reclaim their kitchens! It is time for revolution! If only Che Guevara had written a cookbook. So there! Rant over. Anyway, I suspect I may not alone in this point of view.