March 21, 2012
My family heritage—German, Irish, Swedish, and Russian—does little to explain my food preferences, which tend towards spicy, fresh, and acidic foods. I will never post a recipe for blutwurst (German blood sausage) on this blog, and while I have no problem using shrimp paste for Thai curries, I never intend to so much as be in the presence of an open can of surströmming—Swedish fermented herring that is apparently the smelliest food in the world.
German food is generally too heavy and greasy for my taste, and Swedish food, with the exception of surströmming I’m sure, is rather bland. I do love Ikea’s meatballs though! I’m not sure I’ve ever had authentic Russian food besides blini, or Russian crepes. The blini were good, but the person who made them—my Russian roommate—managed to turn me off to everything Russian when she threatened to send the Russian mafia after me. If you’ve seen the movie Eastern Promises, you know why that’s not a thrilling prospect.
That leaves Irish food. In general, I’m not too enamored of Irish food—no black pudding for me, thank you very much—but there are a few things I like. Irish stew can be delicious, and I’m quite fond of soda bread. There’s one Irish dish, however, that I LOVE, and that’s colcannon. Colcannon is like mashed potatoes on steroids. Okay, maybe that’s not the most appetizing description. It’s mashed potatoes but with kale or cabbage mixed in to give it more textural contrast and flavor, not to mention health benefits.
Colcannon is so popular in Ireland that there’s even a song about it! You can listen to Mary Black sing it here. The lyrics are:
“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, flavored 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.”
My colcannon does not have pickled cream (what is pickled cream?) or butter, so it’s not entirely traditional. To make the potatoes, I followed a method that I saw Tyler Florence use for his Grainy Mustard Mashed Potatoes, in which you simmer the potatoes in milk and cream (here I’m using milk and chicken stock) instead of water. I find this makes the potatoes so rich and creamy that the addition of butter would be overkill. Instead, I drizzle a little olive oil over each serving. But if you like the idea of a hole on top with melted flakes of butter, or are feeling nostalgic for your mother’s little skillet pot, go right ahead and make a little well for some room temperature butter on top of the hot colcannon.
I suspect that colcannon would be a great way to sneak veggies into the diet of a picky eater. I mean, who doesn’t like mashed potatoes, even if there are some greens mixed in? You could even make it more enticing with a handful of crumpled bacon. Mashed potatoes AND bacon? No one could possibly resist that. On the flip side—for the vegetarians and vegans out there—I think this dish would be equally good made with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and non-dairy milk (maybe rice milk) instead of regular milk. Mashed potatoes are pretty versatile, after all.
If you make this recipe for company, be forewarned that the smell of garlic and potatoes simmering in chicken stock and milk is intoxicating. You may have to fend off overly excited guests with your wooden mixing spoon.
Put the potatoes a medium saucepan, cover halfway with chicken stock and cover, just barely, with milk. Add the garlic, bring to boil and simmer until the potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes. Pour about a cup of the liquid into a bowl or measuring cup and set aside. Mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher, adding enough of the reserved liquid to make the mashed potatoes very creamy.
Cut the kale leaves from the stem by holding the bottom of the stem and running the blade down the center to the side of the stem on either side. Roughly chop the leaves and discard the stems. Sauté the kale leaves in the olive oil until wilted and tender but still crisp. You don't want to brown them, so if the pan seems dry as they cook, add a splash of water. Stir the kale, parsley, and scallions into the potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with reserved scallions and a drizzle of olive oil.