Thursday, October 8, 2009
Colcannon - An Irish Halloween Tradition
From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish associated with Halloween, is made with potatoes and savoy cabbage and served with a well of butter in its center. It's simple and delicious and comes with folklore that's sure to please the curious or superstitious. The tale, as told to me, concerns the fate of unmarried women who would put the first and last spoonfuls of Halloween colcannon into a stocking and hang it on their doors. Their shared belief was that the first man who walked through the door would become their husband. Immigration statistics and the birth rate, all those years ago, lead me to believe this didn't work real well. Back then, the ingredients used to make colcannon could be found in any Irish country garden. The second bit of blarney revolved around the selection of a cabbage from that garden by a blindfolded, unmarried woman. The cabbage she selected would be used to make a colcannon into which a ring was hidden. Of course, the person who found the ring would be the next to marry. I must warn you that my recipe for colcannon uses classic ingredients but techniques that my grandmother would frown upon. There are two or three steps to assembling any colcannon. The meat, if used, should be cooked before the potatoes and the cabbage are started. I use a slab of bacon to make mine. Ham can also be used. I simmer it in water for about 45 minutes before dicing it. My potatoes are conventional enough, though I do steam rather than boil them. I prefer to cook my cabbage in a wok. It's the easiest way I know to assure crisp tender greens that aren't water logged. When it all is assembled it looks like a traditional colcannon, but there will be a hint of smoke to play against crisp cabbage. Here's the recipe.
Colcannon ...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite
1 pound unsliced slab bacon or ham
3 pounds boiling potatoes
2 sticks + 3 tablespoons butter, divided use
1-1/4 cups light cream or milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head savory cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1) Place bacon or ham in pot. Cover with water by 1-inch. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from water. Allow to cool. Dice. Refrigerate if not to be used immediately.
2) Scrub potatoes and place on a steamer rack. Bring water in steamer to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer potatoes for 30 minutes. Peel and force potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl. Add 1 stick butter, cut into small dice, into potatoes. Mash to combine. Add salt and pepper to milk. Slowly add hot milk to potato mixture, beating with a spoon. Cover bowl. Keep warm.
3) While potatoes steam, add 3 tablespoons butter to wok. Add cabbage and stir fry over high heat until mixture is crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
4) Add cabbage, bacon and scallions to potatoes. Mix well. Place an equal portion of colcannon in each of six soup bowls.
5) Melt reserved stick of butter in a small pan or in microwave. Form a well in center of each bowl of potatoes. Spoon melted butter into well. Serve hot. Yield: 6 servings.