In New England, people take St. Patrick’s Day seriously. The holiday is a day of pride for the local Irish population and an excellent excuse for drinking for the rest of the population.
It’s too bad that St. Patrick’s Day is usually commemorated with drunkenness and garishly commercialized leprechaun decorations. No use complaining, though. I took time out of my day to cook some more-or-less Irish dishes and reading The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination by Esther De Waal.
A picture from my trip to Ireland several years back.
In my experience, Irish food does not exciting adoration. Fish and chips are fine, so is boxty and soda bread, but not really anything to write home about. Let’s face it, it’s not particularly healthy, either. So we cooked a meal of comfort food, heavy on potatoes, cabbage, and stewed meat, to celebrate a culture and a people that have ingrained themselves in New England’s general consciousness.
On the menu? Colcannon and corned beef with vegetables. As I don’t eat beef and my mother took care of that dish anyway, we’ll just be looking at colcannon.
This dish is fairly simple. Its beauty comes from an interesting texture and the delicate flavor of browned butter
2.5 to 3 pounds of golden russet potatoes (depending on how potato-y you want it)
3 cups green cabbage, shredded and then lightly chopped
One stick of butter (and a little more for cooking the cabbage)
One half of a white onion, chopped
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup whole milk
Fresh ground pepper
1. Bring water to boil, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt. Scrub the potatoes, removing the eyes and any patches of thick skin, then chop them. Once the water boils, add the potatoes, cover, and let cook for 10 minutes or until soft.
2. Drain the potatoes, then let them air dry. You can speed the process with a towel if need be–the drier the potatoes are when you move to step four, the better.
3. While the potatoes dry, put the half and half, milk, and half of the stick of butter in the pot you just removed the potatoes from. Let the milk warm and the butter melt.
4. Once the butter has melted, add the potatoes back in to the pot. Turn off the burner. Stir, then mash the potatoes to your preferred smoothness. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cracked pepper to taste.
5. Add two teaspoons of butter to a fry pan and add the cabbage and onion. Cook until translucent.
6. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the mixture to the potatoes and fold in. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
7. Brown the other half of the stick of butter.
8. Serve: Spoon colcannon onto plates, denting the top with a spoon. Fill the indentation with the browned butter.
The night of a holiday is a bit late to be recommending books, I know, but How the Irish Saved Civilization is a fascinating read if you’re interested in learning more about the Irish that Patrick served. If you haven’t seen the stunningly animated children’s film The Secret of Kells yet, I highly recommend it as well.