Updated: Nov 10
I am Irish, but raised completely unaware of Irish food. My parents had zero interest in, or nostalgia for, the Irish cooking they grew up with. I have no family recipes handed down from previous generations. The only thing I know about my mother's family's cooking are the recollections from her visit to her grandfather's village in rural Tipperary in 1950. She described her elderly bachelor uncles' batterie de cuisine, which was a cauldron over an open fire. They used the cauldron to cook all their meals, which consisted of boiled tea, boiled bacon, and boiled potatoes. How they lived into their 80s without dying from constipation, I have no idea.
My father's family was originally from County Tyrone. They arrived in Montreal's Griffintown in 1864, and moved around frequently after that. From these various addresses, the Maguires distinguished themselves in a number of traditional Québécois areas of excellence: competitive snowshoeing, lacrosse, drinking, litigation, and mental illness. They left no recipes, although my grandmother was reputed to be a very fine cook who made Sunday roasts for other Maguires when they were not engaged in any of the above pursuits. My four year old self could only attest to her exceptional cookie baking.
I don't think my parents were unreasonable in preferring other types of food. The Irish have not been known for their cuisine. Celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi, whose husband is from Belfast, featured an Irish lamb stew recipe in his newspaper column, and was ruthlessly savaged by Irish people who demanded to know what were all these fecking ingredients in his lamb stew. All you need is lamb and water.
Well, I take back all the jokes I have made about Irish cooking after trying my hand at the most hackneyed St. Patrick's Day dish, colcannon. This is seriously delicious, and couldn't be simpler. The below recipe is adapted from one I found in Bon Appetit.
In one of life's great ironies, the flavor is reminiscent of my mother's much-praised French potato-and-leek potage. What's more, I think my bachelor great-great uncles in Tipperary could have made it in their cauldron.
2 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 8ths (could use Russets)
2 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, sliced in half lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
3 garlic cloves smashed and finely diced
2 cups (packed) shredded cabbage (about 1/2 head). I used plain old green cabbage, but I think Savoy or Napa cabbage would be even better.
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
salt (preferably big coarse sea salt) and pepper (white pepper was particularly good for this)
Add potatoes to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender.
While potatoes are cooking, prepare the rest. Melt 2 tbps of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 5–10 minutes.
Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes longer.
Stir in cabbage and cook until just wilted (cabbage should not be completely limp).
Add milk and cream and bring to a simmer.
Add potatoes, then coarsely mash with a potato masher (what makes this dish so delicious is likely because the potatoes are mashed when they are in the pot with the cabbage-maybe because it results in an uneven mash.)
Season with salt and pepper.
I did not season as I went along, and I think the dish was improved by waiting to add salt and ground pepper on top, at the end.
Plate colcannon and top with a pat of butter.
Now that I have rehabilitated my people's culinary tradition at our house, it is on to my husband's heritage. Next up, the famous Hair Soup of Minsk!