How We Survived... (Colcannon)

May 19, 2011
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

When I think of a dirt cheap meal, many things come to mind (including things that make me want to get up on a high horse about how so many "cheap" foods have hidden costs and that we overvalue low cost in our society when it comes to food and blahblahblah). But, one of the main thoughts that pops into my head is about the foods that poor people, you know, the "commoners," have used to survive for centuries through dry seasons or long cold winters.
In much of the world this survival food is rice and legumes, or cornmeal porridge. But, for those of us from far far north it was storage vegetables and protein sources you caught. Two of the most basic survival meals in Norway through the years were lamb and cabbage stew (actually they used to use mutton, now they use lamb) or codfish and potatoes. It's actually a little funny because these days lamb and codfish aren't necessarily cheap. But cabbage and potatoes still are. And, I nearly always have some hanging around.
So, I decided to combine them for a dirt cheap dinner, augmenting them with the warm flavors of garlic and peppercorns. And then as I went to serve it, I realized, 'oh, I've just recreated colcannon. Ha.' But, a super delicious, personalized version of colcannon. And of course, as soon as I realized this I had to run and get some butter to add the butter eye (is that what it is called in English?)
The trick to making this wonderful is to treat both the potato mashing and the cabbage cooking with great respect. I rice the potatoes instead of smashing them to keep them light. And, I definitely think sauteeing the cabbage is preferable to boiling (although boiling would correspond more with a lot of the food of my childhood!). It's filling enough to be a whole meal by itself, and is easily doubled or even tripled. And it makes for a pretty balanced meal too. - fiveandspice —fiveandspice

Test Kitchen Notes

Fiveandspice's version of a classic Irish colcannon is truly a great dish that keeps you coming back for more. The sauteed cabbage caramelized and added a nice texture and color to the mashed potatoes. I loved the garlic and peppercorn infused milk that mixed in with the potatoes. Filling enough to be served on it's own, I paired How We Survived... with a piece of grilled salmon for a delicious meal. - jvcooks —jvcooks

  • Serves 3 or so as a main dish
  • 2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided (I used unsalted, but you can use whatever you have)
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced and cut into about 2 1/2 inch strips
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions, from the back yard :)
In This Recipe
  1. Bring a pot of water with the potatoes to boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are just fork tender. Drain.
  2. In the meantime, combine the milk/cream, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan. Bring just to a simmer, then remove from the heat, stir in the sugar and salt and allow to infuse while the potatoes cook.
  3. In a large frying pan, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter over medium-high heat until foaming, then add the cabbage, stirring occasionally, and cook until softened and starting to get nicely browned in places. Remove from the heat.
  4. Cut 3 of the remaining Tbs. of butter into chunks and place them in the bottom of a bowl. Strain the infused milk/cream into the bowl. Then, using a potato ricer, rice the potatoes into the bowl. Gently fold the potatoes, cream and butter together with a wooden spoon. Then gently stir in the cabbage and the chives/green onions. Season with more salt to taste.
  5. Divide into bowls. Make a little divot in the potato-cabbage mixture in each bowl and add a pat of the remaining butter to each.
  6. If you have any leftovers, you can make them into potato-cabbage cakes the next day. Just stir in 1 beaten egg per cup of leftovers. Mix just until combined, then gently form the mixture into patties. Fry in butter until golden brown on each side, then serve. Yum.

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.