A classic Irish Recipe: Colcannon

Recipe for Colcannon

I had decided a while ago that I wanted to share Irish recipes with you all, and not just for stewed cabbage or boiled potatoes, either.  But for good Irish food, both classic and modern, that you can make for yourselves, maybe even in months besides March!  I was motivated to finally do it today because yesterday, when hubby and I were at the grocery store, we bought the ingredients for colcannon, a delightful and delicious classic Irish dish that is easy and cheap to make and really fills up the family.   Because it is a classic dish, you can easily just google the recipe and find a lot!  But I’ll go ahead and share mine.

First, a few notes about Irish cuisine.  Yes, they do eat a lot of potatoes.  They really do. Second, they have access to wonderful, fresh ingredients and modern Irish cuisine takes full advantage of fresh butter, fresh cream, marvelous pork and fish and beef and lamb, rich cheeses, and crusty bread.  Okay, I’ve got to stop.  My mouth is watering.   Third, the Irish cut of bacon is more what we here in America would consider ham, just a bit fattier ham.  So they’re kind of interchangeable in recipes because you can’t get that particular cut here unless you buy it in a specialty shop and that can be expensive.  So use either, or a combination if you are so inclined, for this recipe.

This particular version of this recipe is from Food Network and the first one I’ve seen that has meat in it, but as I said, there are a lot out there with variations on some of the ingredients so if this doesn’t suit you, feel free to look for another one.  But try it!  I bet your whole family will enjoy this comfort food.

  • 3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/4 cups hot milk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head cabbage cored and shredded
  • 1 (1-pound) piece ham or bacon, cooked
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped (or leeks if you prefer)
  • Chopped parsley for garnish, if desired.

Steam the potatoes in their skins for 30 minutes by putting them in a metal colander above boiling water.  This worked really well for me, and I was able to find a lid to cover the whole contraption.  Peel them using a knife and fork.  Careful, they’re really hot at this point.  Mash thoroughly to remove all the lumps. Add 1 stick of butter in pieces. Gradually add hot milk, stirring all the time. Season with a few grinds of black pepper.

The instant you take the potatoes off the boiling water, throw your  cabbage into it. Boil in the unsalted water until it turns a darker green, showing it’s cooked.  This won’t take long at all, so watch it carefully.  Add 2 tablespoons butter to tenderize it. Cover with lid for 2 minutes.  Drain thoroughly before returning it to the pan and then chop the shreds into small pieces.

While the cabbage is boiling, heat up the ham or bacon by putting it in a pan with a little bit of hot water and boiling it, too, until it’s nice and hot and you’re ready to use it.  Drain off the water. Remove any chunks of fat and chop into small pieces.

Add cabbage, scallions, and ham to mashed potatoes, stirring them in gently.

Serve in individual bowls or plates. Make an indentation on the top with a spoon. Put 1 tablespoon of butter into each indentation. Sprinkle with parsley (if you’re using it) and serve right away.


About susannahsharp

I'm pursuing a life-long dream of writing now, something I am really enjoying. My first book should be out by Christmas. I want to blog about all things Irish; offering some book reviews for romantic, not smutty, books; and also things pertaining to reading and writing.
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10 Responses to A classic Irish Recipe: Colcannon

  1. MonaKarel says:

    Looks evil, and YUM. When I was in England, I found the potatoes to have far more flavor than any I’ve had in the US. Probably the soil? The tastiest potatoes I’ve had were non standard types from small gardens. Bet you could make this with sweet potatoes or yams

    • That is probably true, better soil, better weather, and probably better potatoes to seed with rather than the sanitized version we get here. When I was watching Bobby Flay’s visit to Ireland last St. Patrick’s Day, one of the cooks boiled her potatoes in sea water and Bobby said they were fantastic. My problem is, he never said how to get clean enough sea/salt water to cook with. I live really close to the Great Salt Lake, but believe me, I have no desire to go down there with my cooking pot and scoop up a pan-full.

  2. Debra S. says:

    Thank you for sharing the recipe. Being Irish, I love everything in the recipe. 🙂 I wonder if heavily salting the water with sea salt would make a difference in the taste of the boiled potato. I heavily salt pasta water and when I don’t I taste the difference. Hmm. I’m to change up how I boil potatoes and see what happens.

    • That’s definitely a thought about the salt and I suppose it’s the best alternative to those of us not brave enough to cook with the stuff right from the ocean. But Bobby specifically said it was the minerals and stuff in the water. Anyway, I am sure that the amount of salt would make a difference no matter what else you did.

      On another note, I am glad to have someone Irish on board, so to speak. I would love to get more comments from you as I post things. Especially if I say something wrong.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Sounds yummy. I was a bit confused on the cabbage. You put the whole cabbage in the water and boil it. Then I add 2Tbs of butter to the boiling water and boil 2 more min. Then I drain it all and put the cabbage back in that pot or into another pan…? Do I have this right? Anyway, does sound like a delicious recipe to try. I ‘m not very familiar w/ Irish food, so thanks for sharing!

    • I had to read the recipe a couple times, as well, so I will clarify what I understood it to mean. I think you shred the cabbage when it’s raw, leaving it in long strips. Then you boil those. And yes, once they are done, you add the butter to the boiling water and let it sit for two minutes (I think you could omit this step if you wanted. I don’t really understand the tenderizing idea behind it and truthfully when I made it, I didn’t do it. It tasted find to me.) Then, you drain them, and chop them more into pieces from the shreds. You know, more bite-size. At that point, you are ready to add them to your mashed potatoes in the bowl or whatever else you are mixing them in, along with the warmed ham or bacon. Does that make more sense? I think the reason they suggest shredding the cabbage is just so it cooks faster. I know when I boil a cabbage that’s only cut it half it takes quite a long time and once your potatoes are done and mashed, you want to add the rest of the ingredients quickly. Hope that helps. If not, feel free to ask again.

      And if you’re not familiar with Irish food, then check back with the blog periodically. I’m going to try to post a recipe at least every other week if not more often. I’ve collected a lot of them as I’ve gotten ready to write my book and I want to share! It justifies all the money I’ve spent on all the cookbooks. Right? Right?

      • Yes, that does make sense.Thank you for clarifying. It’s a very easy recipe. I’d like to try it. The only daunting part is peeling all those potatoes! I will subscribe to your blog so I can get all the other recipes. In fact I’d love a good stew recipe for winter, one that could be adapted for the crock pot would be even better. My only problem is I live in Japan and it can be hard to get big cuts of meat here. But I’m still interested. ( :

  4. Wow, Japan! That’s exciting! Most classic Irish cooking doesn’t actually have much meat, mostly because they didn’t have money to get it. The more modern dishes do, of course, because they aren’t living in abject poverty anymore. So I’ll try to vary the style of recipes between the two and hopefully you can find a few that interest you. Irish stew has lamb in it as a general rule and I have no idea whether that’s an option for you over there or not. But perhaps there is a variation using beef. I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll look for next time. I cook with a crock-pot all the time, so maybe I can make some suggestions to make it slow-cooker friendly. I’ll look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  5. Sounds like a delicious recipe—a little more involved than just making mashed potatoes from scratch, but worth the effort. I’ll have to see.

    BTW, true salt is a mixture of 64 (I think) minerals from the ocean which our bodies need. However, because of all the sanitizing that takes place, we don’t get the salt we need. It sounds contrary to our health and for those with high blood pressure, but it’s because we’re not actually getting the minerals we need from salt. You can find pink salt in health food stores that are supposed to contain all these minerals. They benefit you the most, supposedly, when you do not use them for cooking, just for salting something already cooked.

  6. Thanks for that information about the salt, Julie. I am not a big expert on health food and things like that, but I have read enough about how the food we eat now is just so nutrionally deficient that it’s sort of scary. It wouldn’t really surprise me to find out that the salt we buy is missing things, too. Very interesting.

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