How We Survived ... Colcannon

March 15, 2022
7 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 3 or so as a main dish
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's 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 sautéing 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.

If you have any leftovers, you can make them into potato-cabbage cakes the next day. Just stir in 1 beaten egg per 1 cup leftovers. Mix just until combined, then gently form the mixture into patties. Fry in butter until golden brown on each side. Yum. —fiveandspice

Test Kitchen Notes

"Fiveandspice's version of a classic Irish colcannon is truly a great recipe that keeps you coming back for more. The sautéed 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 its own, I paired the colcannon with a piece of grilled salmon for a delicious meal." - jvcooks —jvcooks

What You'll Need
  • 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 kosher salt, plus more
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced and cut into 2½-inch strips
  • 3 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
  1. In a medium pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are just fork-tender. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the milk, garlic, and peppercorns just to a simmer. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt and sugar, and let infuse while the potatoes cook.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter until foaming. Cook the cabbage, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to get nicely browned in places. Remove from the heat.
  4. Cut 3 tablespoons of the butter into chunks and transfer to a large bowl. Strain the infused milk into the bowl. Using a potato ricer, rice the potatoes into the bowl and gently fold to combine with a wooden spoon. Gently stir in the cabbage and chives; season with salt.
  5. Divide the colcannon among bowls. Make a little divot in the colcannon and add a pat of the remaining butter to each.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jade DaRu
    Jade DaRu
  • wutsfasupa
  • Barbara Olsen
    Barbara Olsen
  • Miranda Nichole Tolson
    Miranda Nichole Tolson
  • deanna1001

79 Reviews

Jade D. March 15, 2019
I just made this and it is delicious! Really wonderful.
kathleen March 22, 2018
I made this and it was wonderful, very rich and comforting. I added shallots to the cabbage. I also split this in half and made a vegan version with coconut milk and olive oil that was very good. It was also great as left overs and reheated.
wutsfasupa January 2, 2015
Colcannon is fabulous with kale instead of cabbage.
Mary H. January 5, 2015
Curly kale as we call it was what we always use. It makes us laugh how hip kale has become and are amazed that kale crisps are a "thing"! We've always felt that kale was really only palatable when wrapped up in lots of creamed potato and salted butter
Barbara O. November 1, 2014
Oh how funny I see I already wrote about about this 8 months ago, my almost 80 year old memory forgot
Barbara O. November 1, 2014
I'm very excited to see this, in March I will be 80. My dad was an early immigrant from Ireland and he tried to tell my mother ( who was from Kansas) how to cook this potatoes dish. He called it something that sounds like this "Bruchen" I have always wondered if that was a Gaelic translation. My mom used to cook what I will call mashed potatoes that had garlic salt, pepper butter
Barbara O. November 1, 2014
And cream,I have always thought it had scallions in it but I was a kid . She would put the potatoes in our bowel then a knob of butter and the warmed milk/cream. I have never met anyone who had this kind of memory. I am assuming my dad may not have known about the cabbage, or maybe it was me too young too recognize it.... Anyhow thanks for a dish that brings me back to Donegal and my dad.
linda January 17, 2016
There is an Irish mash/scallion dish, called Champ... Different from colcannon but equally good.
Miranda N. November 1, 2014
doesn't authentic colcannon from Ireland have bacon or ham in it? I saw an episode where Tyler Florence was in Ireland and I'm pretty sure the girl used bacon
Mary H. January 5, 2015
In Ireland we generally eat colcannon as a side dish with boiled bacon - an everyday dish made with streaky bacon in a piece - green, not smoked - and cut from the belly. Cheap and delicious.
Victoria B. March 20, 2014
I remember having a festival of sorts where everyone had to cook an ethnic dish for our residents to enjoy. I prepared 'Rumpeldythumps', a Scottish dish, which comprised russet potatoes boiled, mashed with butter and half & half. Sautéed cabbage and onions were added to this, placed in individual ramekins and sharp Cabbots cheddar was shredded and placed on top before placing under a broiler. Tasty!
CookOnTheFly March 17, 2014
Made this tonight for my doubting British-heritage boyfriend. He is now a convert. He had no idea how yummy cabbage and potatoes could be together.
deanna1001 March 17, 2014
Making this tonight to serve along with corned beef. I will be expecting raves! Thanks again for a great recipe!
Ellen F. March 17, 2014
I used to make colcannon when my kids were at home, but I confess I topped it with grated cheddar. thanks for the reminder; I think I'll make it tonight, sans cheese.
Rkelly3042 March 16, 2014
Liked the Colcannon-I admit I added Irish hub liked it a lot
walkie74 March 12, 2014
How is this recipe on gas? My Irish blooded friend threatened to, um, stinkbomb my house if I served cabbage, due to its effects.
Mary H. March 11, 2014
When you know that the staple diet in 19th century Ireland was potatoes cooked in their jackets and tumbled out onto the table top, dressed only with salt & butter - if you had a cow - you will understand that this version of colcannon is unutterably luxurious! The colcannon I was brought up with was mashed potato mixed with chopped scallions and kale, long before it got fashionable! Definitely some butter, but absolutely no cream. The moisture from the kale was/is enough to keep it soft. And, yes, there was always a little pool of melted butter in a hollow made by the wooden spoon as the finishing touch! We'll probably have some on St Patrick's Day this coming weekend. With the leftovers of the baked ham chopped and stirred into little potato cakes (no egg) fried gently in butter the following day. Lá Féile Pádraig sona daoibh!
[email protected] March 7, 2014
Do you think I can make this ahead and reheat? Perhaps more cream & butter?
fiveandspice March 8, 2014
I think it could work. Adding just a touch more cream and butter would help loosen it back up as it warms.
Barbara O. March 6, 2014
Oh I forgot to add I will use your recipe and Kerry gold irish butter, this will be a great recipe to add to my irish heritage, thanks.
Barbara O. March 6, 2014
My father was an Irish immigrant and one of the dishes my mother used to
attempt to make for him was similar she would cook russet potatoes and mash them with butter and cream along with chopped scallions, S&P. In another pot she would warm half, and divide the potatoes in to three bowls put a divot in the middle of the mound , which we were told to bury the hunk of butter i the mound and then she poured the warmed milk over. There was'nt any cabbage in it and my dad called it something that sounds like this "bruchen"
jthelwell March 6, 2014
The first time I had Colcannon, it was served spread on a baked ham steak. Have to try that this weekend.
Barbaralhomme March 5, 2014
The McKenna/Galvin family has been enjoying colcannon for years. thank you for sharing .
Lorenza March 5, 2014
Blasted auto correct.....
Lorenza March 5, 2014
Slain the, indeed!
This will be a perfect accompaniment to our St. Paddy's Day corned beef. A great change up from the expected boiled cabbage,carrots, and potatoes.