This time last year I was pining for a little taste of home. Halloween was coming and I was looking forward to a steaming bowl of colcannon, just like my mammy used to make. Unfortunately, I could not find any kale or green cabbage, a key ingredient of the dish, here in Lithuania. I tried several supermarkets and farmers’ markets, but only white cabbage was available. Upset, I consoled myself with cake.
This year I made sure to plant both kale and Savoy cabbage so that I could make colcannon during the autumn months. Colcannon is a wonderfully comforting dish made with creamy mashed potato and dark green kale or Savoy cabbage. Like all traditional dishes, recipes vary from home to home. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, when butter was bad for you and to be avoided at all costs, butter did not feature in our colcannon. Instead, mam would use plenty of warm, creamy milk. I also don’t remember her adding spring onions (scallions), as mentioned in the famous song. However, since I started making my own colcannon I find that a little onion green adds to the warming, comforting qualities of the dish.
While we ate colcannon many times over the autumn months, mam always, ALWAYS made colcannon for Halloween. As with the barnbrack, she would hide a ring, rag and coin, each carefully wrapped in white baking paper, in the colcannon. Whoever found the ring would get married first, whoever found the coin would be rich and whoever found the rag would be poor. There was always great fun at the table when one of the items was found. We could never remember from year to year who had found what, so we always treated the predictions as new and, naturally, true!
I usually test my recipes at least three times before I share them with you and am often a bit tired of the dish by the time I post the recipe. I have made at least six pots of colcannon and there is no sign of me tiring of it. For one thing, it’s so incredibly versatile. It goes with a rich stew, saucy pork ribs or alongside a juicy steak. It’s also delicious on its own. The kale and spring onions make it more interesting and colourful than plain mashed potato without taking away the joy that is mashed potato. I’m just glad that I planted a late batch of kale in my garden so that I can enjoy many more bowls over the coming months.
Traditional Irish Colcannon
1 kg | 2 lbs potatoes (about 4 large potatoes)
200 g | 7 oz curly kale* (about 6-7 large leaves)
2 tsp salt
50 g | 2 oz spring onions, green part only (about 3-4 spring onions)
200 mls | 7 fl oz full cream milk
* You can substitute flat kale, collard greens or Savoy cabbage.
- Wash the kale thoroughly, remove the thick central stalk and chop into pieces about 2 cm (1 inch) square.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks about 2 cm (1 inch) square.
- Bring two saucepans of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 tsp of salt to each saucepan.
- Carefully add the potatoes to one of the saucepans and cover with a lid. Bring the water back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are tender. (Test by sticking the tip of a sharp knife into a piece of potato. It should go in easily, with no resistance.)
- Add the kale to the second saucepan and cover with a lid. Bring the water back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 6 minutes.
- Cut the spring onions into 1 cm (½ inch) pieces. Add to the saucepan with the kale for the last minute of cooking (i.e., after the kale has been simmering for 5 minutes).
- When tender, strain the potatoes through a colander and allow to stand for about 2 minutes to let some of the steam come out. This will result in fluffier mash.
- While the potatoes are steaming strain the kale and spring onions through a colander and squeeze out any excess water by pressing with the back of a spoon. Cover to keep warm.
- Place the milk in a saucepan and heat until the edges just start to bubble. (Using warm milk instead of cold will help keep your colcannon hot.)
- Add the warm milk to the potatoes and mash with a potato masher until smooth and lump free.
- Add the kale and spring onions to the potato and mix well. Serve immediately.
- Colcannon is best served as soon as it is prepared so that it is hot and creamy. To reheat any leftovers, pre-heat an oven to 200° C | 390° F. Place the colcannon in an oven-proof dish and spread evenly out to the sides of the dish. Pour a small amount of milk around the sides of the potato – enough to come about half way up the potato. The milk will steam in the oven and prevent the colcannon from drying out. Cover the dish with silver foil and heat in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the colcannon is piping hot. Stir the colcannon well to incorporate the warm milk into the potato. Serve immediately.