In speaking of this most celebrated of Irish potato dishes, the musician Mick Bolger—whose Denver-based contemporary Celtic band is called Colcannon—notes that it has a "wonderful affinity" for corned beef and cabbage. And he confesses that he has also eaten it "with fillet mignon and port sauce; with rashers [bacon], tomatoes, and kidneys-in-their-jackets at 4 a.m.; and—God forgive me—wrapped in a tortilla, microwaved, and eaten, over the sink, with salsa." It is, in other words, a versatile creation. It is also one that exists in numerous variations, depending on the season, the region of the country, and of course personal taste. It is often made with just butter, milk, and kale, but the scholar P. W. Joyce defines "caulcannon" as "potatoes mashed with butter and milk, with chopped up cabbage and pot-herbs." Mary Ward, when she makes colcannon at her house in Nenagh, County Tipperary, starts with a trip to the kitchen garden, armed with a basket and a pair of shears. This is her recipe.
2 to 2 1/2 lb/1 kg to 1.25 kg russet or other floury potatoes (5 or 6)
6 to 8 Tbsp butter
2 to 3 lightly packed cups/400 to 800 g chopped kale or assorted chopped greens (such as kale, parsley, sorrel, spinach, and/or broccoli or cauliflower leaves)
1 1/3 cups/320 ml milk
4 scallions, green part only, minced
Salt and pepper
1. Put the potatoes into a large pot, with the larger ones on the bottom, and add water to come halfway up the potatoes. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water begins to boil, carefully drain off about half of it, then return the pot to the heat, cover it again, reduce the heat to low, and let the potatoes steam for about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat; cover the potatoes with a clean, damp tea towel; and let sit for 5 minutes more.
2. Melt 4 Tbsp of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale or assorted greens and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes.
3. Combine the milk, scallions, and remaining butter in a medium pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the greens and stir in well. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and set aside.
4. Drain and carefully peel the potatoes, then return them to the pot. Add the greens and their liquid and mash until smooth, leaving a few small lumps in the potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. To serve in the traditional Irish manner, push the back of a large soup spoon down in the middle of each portion to make a crater, then put a large pat of room-temperature butter into each one to make a "lake." Diners dip each forkful of colcannon into the butter until its walls are breached.
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