I was going to start this piece explaining how mashed potatoes are my favorite comfort food, yea, greater than chocolate, mac and cheese or gin . I realized I was pulling my punches: mashed potatoes are my favorite food in the world on cheerful days and crappy days. I’ll try to sneak them onto the menu anytime a sauce is involved. When I say sneak I’m not kidding here. Although my husband likes mashties just fine, they’re not his fave food and he’s likely to remind me (for the eighty-third time in our marriage) that boiled potatoes are traditional with Boeuf Bourguignonne, that wide noodles compliment a Carbonnade, that a pilaf pleases, that cheese grits are great with Country Captain. Well, I suppose…
Neither of us identify as Irish, though Lou could, through the female line. We don’t drink green beer, hate Irish dancing, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Irish tenors (except for the transcendent John McCormack.) But we do love that one week a year brings corned beef on sale for 1.67 a pound, so why not gather some cabbage and spuds and go all Erin go Braugh?
Now, everyone from Knock to New Guinea knows that the potatoes in the St. Patrick’s boiled dinner are just that: boiled. The cabbage is boiled. The beef is boiled. And there’s nothing the matter with that: I like the well-scrubbed, fresh-faced colleen version of the Hibernian corned beef and cabbage. But last night I trotted out my blandest version of Menu Schemer and a bit ‘o the Blarney — I was suffering from mashed potato deficit disorder.
Now, we always glaze the corned beef with mustard and brown sugar after it’s shrunk and tender; we just like the crust, and the way the brisket loses a a bit of the Auld Sog after five minutes in a hot oven. That’s not traditional, right? So why not use up that pound of aging Idahoes, cook up some cabbage, and serve forth the divinest dish in Irish cooking (except Bushmill’s): Colcannon.
It was dead easy, really, and I’m sending Darina Allen, the author of the newish “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” a big sloppy kiss. She’s the Irish chef who runs the famous Ballymaloe Cooking School, founded the first Farmers’ Market in Ireland, and is an award-winning writer and teacher. Lou is as infatuated with “Lost Skills” as I am, and should I ever need a device that holds a chicken still while you wring its neck, she lists a resource. All I needed to do was pull out the book, say “I wonder what Darina has to say about Colcannon?” and I knew victory was mine.
What’s Colcannon? It’s mashed potatoes combined with lots of cabbage. I used Allen’s recipe for buttered cabbage (so simple, so divine I — good God! — considered serving it separately with a dish of boiled potatoes.) I tricked out the mashers with some chives from the garden, a dab of cream cheese, some half and half, and the usual heavy hand with the butter. I tossed the potatoes in with the cabbage, dished it forth and made a wee volcano in the center for more butter.No food stylists were harmed in the taking of this photograph — it may in fact be the most hideous food shot I’ve seen anywhere! But trust me it was so good that I’m pleased that I made a bucketful. We all know what to do with leftover Colcannon, right?
Well, you play pattycakes, and form it into disks — you can add some diced corned beef to make it a meal. Then you fry them up in butter, or better: bacon fat. And there you go: Bubble and Squeak for dinner!
The world would be a whole lot cheerier for more Bubble and Squeak, and more opportunities to say, as lightly as mist on the Liffey: “What’s for dinner? Bubble and Squeak! Again!”