With the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations kicking off this weekend, I wanted to share this recipe that I created for my culinary school menu project. When we were assigned this task to design a dinner party, of no fewer than four courses to serve eight guests, I decided to explore the culinary traditions of the Emerald Isle. You see, unlike other folks, I don’t have any traditional, cultural family recipes handed down through the generations that tug at the ethnic heartstrings. This project gave me a chance to research the cuisine of Ireland and to pair it with some of the beverages for which that country is perhaps better known.
No menu featuring Irish cooking would be complete without at least one potato dish like this one. Colcannon, meaning “white-headed cabbage” in Gaelic, is a mix of mashed up potatoes (sometimes leftover from a previous meal) combined with cabbage, kale, leeks, and/or scallions. I found several different versions of this recipe in my menu research and was told about others from friends and contacts of mine, all of which included potatoes mixed with one or several of those vegetables. The main differences in these recipes tend to be regional or familial and dependent upon individual taste preferences.
Traditionally, this dish is served for Halloween, originally celebrated as the Celtic feast of Samhain (then it was co-opted by Christianity as were many previously pagan celebrations), which signaled the end of the Celtic year and of the harvest season. According to superstition, a young, single woman who found a ring hidden in the dish could expect to be married before springtime while the young, single woman who found the thimble faced spinsterhood. (I’m not necessarily recommending that you continue that tradition!) Colcannon is also considered to be a quintessential Irish comfort food. For my menu project, I paired this with Harp Lager, but you could serve it with the beverage of your choice.
Prep Time: about 1 1/2 hours
Serving Size: 8 portions (1 Colcannon cake, 1 slice back bacon, 1 quail’s egg per person)
For the Colcannon Cakes: 3 large Russet or Idaho Potatoes 4 large Kale leaves 4 large White Cabbage leaves 4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, plus 3 Tablespoons to cook the Colcannon cakes (I used Kerrygold.*) 3/4 cup Whole Milk 2 teaspoons Salt 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper, freshly ground 1/4 cup Flour
To serve: 8 slices of thick-cut Irish back bacon 2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter for frying eggs (I used Kerrygold.*) 8 Quail Eggs 1 Tablespoon Scallions, finely minced, for garnish
To prepare the Colcannon Cakes, first cook the potatoes in their skins. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan or pot filled with cold water that just covers the potatoes. Bring the water up to a boil, turn down the heat and let the water simmer. The potatoes are finished when a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest point. Set aside to cool for a moment. (If you have leftover mashed potatoes, you can re-purposed those instead for this recipe.)
Clean kale leaves of any dirt or grit and strip the leaves from the tough stems. Chop up the kale into thin strips. In a pan of boiling water fitted with a steamer basket. Steam the kale for about four minutes until just tender. Remove the steamer basket from the pan and let the kale drain in a colander.
Peel off ragged, damaged outer leaves of the cabbage to get at the more tender inner ones. Clean cabbage leaves of any dirt or grit. Chop the cabbage up up into small chunks. Melt one tablespoon of the butter in saucepan. Put cabbage in pan and cover with a lid. Cook the cabbage until it becomes tender and translucent. Take the pan off the heat and allow the cabbage to cool down a bit.
By this time, the potatoes will have cooled off enough to be handled. Peel the potatoes by using a paring knife to remove the skins gently. The skins should come off easily. Mash up potatoes using a fork or a potato ricer. Heat the milk until it just reaches the boiling point. Pour the milk into the potatoes and stir it into the potatoes together with the remaining three tablespoons of the butter, salt, and pepper. Mix together until the potato mixture is smooth. It can still contain some lumps, but it should be mostly smooth and fluffy. Add the steamed kale and cooked cabbage to the potatoes.
Mix together the kale and cabbage with the mashed potatoes. Taste the mixture and adjust it for seasoning, as necessary. Form potato-kale-cabbage mixture (Colcannon) into eight rounds. Pour flour onto plate. Dust Colcannon cakes with a little bit of flour to aid them developing a brown crust when cooked. While Colcannon cakes are cooking, finely mince scallions. Set aside to be used when assembling the final dish.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt two teaspoons of butter in a large skillet. Place four of the Colcannon cakes in the pan and cook on one side until golden brown and crispy. Flip over and cook them on the second side in the same manner, adding extra butter, if needed. Remove the Colcannon cakes from the pan after they have become brown and crispy on both sides. Place on a rack until ready to serve.
Heat an oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Wipe the skillet clean after cooking the Colcannon cakes. Place the bacon in the skillet. Cook bacon on both sides until the edges become slightly crisp. It will not become completely crunchy-chewy like American-style bacon, as it has less fat overall. Remove the bacon from the pan and place on a rack. Place the Colcannon cakes and the bacon on a baking sheet to keep warm while preparing the quail’s eggs. You could also make the Colcannon cakes in advance, refrigerate them, and then reheat them in the oven prior to serving them.
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Crack three to four of the quail’s eggs in the skillet (depending upon the size of the skillet), taking care not to let their whites overlap. Cook until the white is firmly set, the edges are a bit crispy, and the yolk is still mostly runny. Set aside on a warm plate. Repeat with the additional eggs, adding more butter as necessary.
Place one of the warmed Colcannon cakes on each of eight plates. Top each with a fried quail’s egg. Place one piece of the bacon alongside the Colcannon cake. Sprinkle with a bit of the chopped scallion. Serve while everything is still warm, alongside a beverage of your choice.
*A few months back, Kerrygold invited me to be a part of their blogger network. As a long-time fan of cooking and baking with their butters for its taste and texture and ability to deliver consistent results, I accepted their offer. I had designed and tested these recipes (as well as many others on this website) using Kerrygold well before they reached out to me. You can use whatever butter you wish.