Irish Colcannon for St. Patrick’s Day


Irish Colcannon for St. Patrick’s Day


Thinking about Irish food for St. Paddy’s Day required sipping some Jameson, neat. It’s silky and elegant, more like cognac than whiskey. It shimmers across your palate. Now where was I? Oh yes, a dish for St. Patrick’s Day.


I propose colcannon, the savory combination of lightly caramelized cabbage, or braised kale, with mashed potatoes.


While not specifically a St. Patrick’s Day treat, it’s solid winter fare and will pair nicely with salmon and watercress-cream sauce or with lamb chops and mint. It’s also ideal with boiled ham or corned beef for a classic Irish dinner.


The name derives from the Gaelic words for white-headed cabbage. “Cál” is the Irish version of “cole,” an Old-English and Germanic word, though of Latin origin, for cabbage (think coleslaw, kohlrabi, cauliflower). Either cabbage or kale combines heartily with potatoes – and plenty of butter, of course -- to make an amazing dish.

Irish fare is infrequently considered a gourmet offering. But in fact, some dishes are extremely tasty. Well-seasoned mashed potatoes, which my New England-Irish mother served nearly every day of my childhood, is one of those, as chefs at classy restaurants now recognize. The greens in colcannon makes mashed potatoes even richer.

Since this is a side dish, I’m not recommending specific accompanying drinks. Those would depend on the meat or fish in the dinner. But if having beer, please not Guinness stout, as good as it is, especially if serving salmon. A low-hop lager beer would be preferable.

Actually, as my Irish informants inform me, wine or beer is uncommon with dinner there. Men are more likely to drink stout or porter after dinner, while the ladies take sherry.

My recommendation is sipping neat Jameson while you’re cooking. 

Irish Colcannon

1 small cabbage or large bunch kale, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 very small onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter, split

3 tablespoons canola oil


2 pounds potatoes, baking type or Yukon Gold type

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large pinch cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional)

1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk

About 1/2 cup water reserved from boiling the potatoes

Gently fry onion and cabbage or kale in 3 tablespoons butter, the oil plus 1/2 teaspoon salt in covered pan, stirring frequently. Add a tablespoon of water from time to time to keep vegetables from sticking. Fry until tender and color is becoming pale golden in places. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Meanwhile, peel potatoes (or keep skins if not too thick or spotted: if not peeling, scrub potatoes and remove any bad spots). Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in cold water to prevent browning.

In a pot boil potatoes in just enough water to cover them, adding garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil until quite tender and beginning to flake on the edges (10 -12 minutes). Test for doneness with a tooth pick.

Drain potatoes, saving part of the water in a bowl. Return potatoes to pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, cayenne or hot sauce, horseradish, if used, and 3 tablespoons butter. Mash well to break up lumps. Add half-and-half or milk and continue to mash and mix. With the masher, beat in enough reserved boiling water to obtain a soft fluffy consistency. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Add cooked cabbage or kale. Mix thoroughly with spoon. Taste again and adjust any seasonings necessary. Cover and keep warm until served.

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