Real Irish Comfort Food - FineCooking.com

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Real Irish Comfort Food

By Sarah Breckenridge, producer

March 10th, 2009

A few years ago, I was making colcannon, that Irish comfort-food dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. My recipe came straight from an Irish cook, so I was mystified when it called for "bolted cabbage greens." What the heck are those? My gardening pals had an answer: they're the darker green leaves that "bolt" off the main stalk as the plant matures. In other words, they're not on the head of cabbage you get at the grocery store. Bereft of bolted greens, I substituted kale.

My last CSA share included some exceptionally leafy heads of broccoli. Real bolted greens! It seemed a shame to throw away all those leaves, and anyway, I had a great destination in mind. I coarsely chopped them up, and braised them in butter and water, along with a half head of shredded green cabbage. Meanwhile, I boiled 3 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes and mashed them with a little hot milk and plenty of butter (you might argue it's the butter, rather than the cabbage and potatoes, that makes this dish truly Irish). When the greens were tender, I folded them gently into the mashed potatoes and seasoned with salt and pepper. The broccoli greens add streaks of beautiful color, a little extra texture, and a delicate echo of the cabbage's nutty flavor.


posted in: Blogs, cooking now, St. Patrick's Day, comfort food, mashed potatoes, cabbage, Irish, Sarah Breckenridge
Comments (12)

hsm1 writes: I made mine with bok choy, yukon golds and added half and half along with butter. Everyone licked their plates! Posted: 5:53 pm on March 13th

Bronwynsmom writes: Yes, I make this in both the Irish and the Dutch variations. For the Dutch one, I use a medium bunch of kale (any variety will do), stemmed and shredded. I peel and quarter 2 or 3 pounds of smallish potatoes, & cook them 15 minutes in my pasta pot full of fairly heavily salted water. Then I add a tablespoon of sugar and the kale, and cook 12 or so minutes more. I strain the whole business and season with pepper, butter, and a good squeeze of lemon.
For the Irish one, I use a smaller pot and boil the potatoes in lightly salted water for 15 minutes. Then I add a small head of cabbage, shredded, and cook another 12 or so minutes. Meanwhile, I slice the white parts of 2 large or 3 small leeks fairly thinly and simmer them for 20 minutes in 3/4 cup of milk with a pat of butter. I strain the potatoes and cabbage, dump it all in a big bowl with the leeks and their milk, add a lot more butter, more milk and more salt if it seems to need more, some white pepper, and a teaspoon of mace, and mash it all up to a fare-thee-well.
We like both with fat sausages and a good beer. Posted: 8:47 am on March 13th

Pete999 writes: I make this a few times a year, and always on/near St. Patrick's Day. However, (A) I don't peel the spuds (I do quarter them); (B) I BOIL them - I doubt they had steamers in old Ireland; (C)I use cabbage - the coarser outside leaves, cut in shreds; while I like the taste of kale, I find the texture doesn't work as well; (D) I cook them together - I boil the potatoes for about 20-30 minutes (test them with a skewer), and put the cabbage in for the last 15-20 minutes.

I do the rest the same as in the recipe... I especially like simmering the green onions with butter and milk. As they say over there, "Lashings of butter".

I shall have to try this with some other greens... the farmers' markets sometimes have cauliflower with all the leaves attached. And shredded brussels sprouts sounds divine, if a bit hoity-toity for a "cottage" dish. Posted: 11:32 am on March 15th

SeamusBreathnach writes: This is usually made with kale. Posted: 11:52 pm on March 10th

hipdeepinbooks writes: It sounds like something I ate as a child when we lived in Holland. I remember it being rather bland, so maybe this version is better because of the nutmeg...I'm going to give it a try. Posted: 9:47 pm on March 10th

reinerls writes: Rarely do I find a recipe that I find "exceptional," but this one really is. I made it using kale with the cabbage and potatoes, and am starting a new category in our family for VERY SPECIAL RECIPES ONLY: "FANTABULOUS". This recipe goes in! Posted: 8:20 pm on March 18th

barbski writes: We visited some family in Amsterdam who are native Dutch several years ago and they made a dish like this for us. The only difference was they used curly endive. It's wonderful, great color, more nutritious and every time I make it I think of our dear family in Amsterdam.
I think it's also a traditional dish in the scandinavian countries too. Posted: 11:50 am on March 16th

FC_Editors writes: I've never added nutmeg before--will have to try that next time! Posted: 12:22 pm on March 12th

Woo222 writes: You can also use sauteed shredded brussel sprouts as the greens. If you want to maintain more of the bright green color and crunch blanch the sprouts instead.

Other recipes advise using freshly grated nutmeg as an ingredient that can make the difference between a good colcannon and a great one. I must say I agree but use it sparingly! You want the nutmeg to enhance the dish, not take it over. Posted: 11:30 am on March 12th

sbreckenridge writes: Jason,
The recipe I was using ultimately ran in Saveur (minus the author's reference to "bolted greens") and I've updated the post with a link. I have to confess, though, that I simplify it quite a bit when making it at home--I cook the cabbage and greens together in one pan, and I boil the potatoes rather than steam them, for faster cooking. This last time I made it, I also left out the scallions, because I didn't have any on hand. Posted: 12:27 pm on March 11th

Jason123 writes: It would be nice if I could find the recipe. Posted: 7:26 pm on March 10th

LisaWaddle writes: The green streaks are indeed beautiful, Sarah. I'm going to give this a try (alas, with kale). Posted: 4:30 pm on March 10th

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