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Colcannon

Editor's note: Jason is The Rogue Estate's new Resident Vegetarian. He's endured a near constant barrage of taunting and meat jokes since his first night in the kitchen with us and still shows up on time to help us create fantastic meals so we decided to get him a blog account, too! This is his first entry, detailing the dish he prepared for our recent feature in the 3/14/12 edition of Real Detroit Weekly and The Hungry Dudes blog.   For St. Patrick's Day few dishes are more traditional than Colcannon, a mix of potatoes and either cabbage or kale.  For this version I went with cabbage as I found out in research that Colcannon comes from the old Gaelic word "cal ceannann" meaning white-headed cabbage.  Kale is used almost equally as cabbage is in current preparations and kale is probably the sexier of the options, but I wanted this recipe to be as traditional as possible. A few liberties were taken with the preparation and ideas behind this recipe, mostly dealing with green onions.  Most recipes call for leeks to be used as the flavoring agent, but since leeks were already on the menu in another guise I went with green onions.  The second reason for using the green onions is another traditional Irish dish called "champ" which is basically mashed potatoes with green onions (no cabbage) that is very similar to colcannon.  I actually like the flavor of champ better than colcannon, but since colcannon is a bit more recognized I went with colcannon with a definite nod to champ in adding much more green onion than would be traditionally used in colcannon alone.  The third reason for the green onions is that it reminded me of a soup of a sort that I had at a bar when I was in college.  Near St. Patrick's day one of the bartenders would also make up some traditional Irish fare to give out to regulars.  On the unofficial bar menu along with other fare was colcannon and champ.  The first time I had ever tried either.  He also made a soup like side dish that he called "green tea" which was basically lots of green onions steeped a long time in milk and cream then served in small demitasse cups.  It was pretty magical stuff and so in tribute to him I added a bit of a variation on his green tea to the colcannon. Depending on how many recipes you look at and how far back you go you'll find that bacon is not used in the oldest recipes for colcannon.  In about half of the recipes I looked at it was an ingredient or a topping.  The reason for this is that colcannon was generally a poor farmers recipe and bacon wouldn't be available to poorer families or would be used sparingly.  I didn't intend to use bacon as I'm the lone vegetarian in this mad band, however, bacon was crisped up and made available for those who wanted it. The great thing about colcannon is its simplicity and there are quite a few variations you can play with.  If you want it softer and more luxurious version you could pulse the sauteed cabbage in a food processor and whip with the potatoes.  The spicing is definitely variable.  Mace is the traditional spice but it would be interesting with smoked or sweet paprika, nutmeg or possibly cinnamon.  Kale would generally lend a greener flavour and a heartier texture and if you wanted to really go heavier you could use collard or mustard greens.  The onions used are variable as well.  The bulbous spring onions would be excellent if not quite as readily available.  Red onions cooked with the cabbage would add an interesting colour pop.  The only things that aren't really optional are the potatoes and the butter.  Colcannon is very much a vehicle for melted butter.  
Colcannon
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Recipe Type: Side Dish
Author: Jason Schubb
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 45 mins
Serves: 6
A traditional Irish side/main dish consisting of mashed potatoes, either kale or cabbage flavoured with onions, scallions or leeks.
Ingredients
  • 5 russet potatoes
  • 1/2 head of cabbage
  • 2 bunches of green onions
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
  • bacon (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Boil potatoes in jackets in salted water until tender. Remove from water, peel and chop into rough chunks.
  2. Chop green onions and separate the greens and the whites.
  3. Core and thinly slice the cabbage.
  4. Steep in a small saucepan 3/4 of the green onion greens with 1 1/2 cup milk over low heat.
  5. Saute the cabbage and green onion whites in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, season with salt, pepper and ground mace until tender.
  6. When cabbage is tender add chopped potatoes and pour in green onion/milk mixture.
  7. Mix potatoes/cabbage mixture with wooden spoon to desired consistency. Keep warm.
  8. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in small saucepan.
  9. Saute bacon until crisp (if using).
  10. To serve place mound of colcannon on plate and make a small well in the centre. Fill well will melted butter. Top with reserved green onion greens and chopped bacon (if using).
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Leftovers reheat easily and can also be used for a killer potato, cabbage and cream soup. Topping options are endless as well - anything you enjoy on a baked or mashed potato is going to work on Colcannon brilliantly. Got a favorite variation? Let me know in the comments.  -Jason