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Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Weekend in Dublin: Colcannon

The reasons I LOVE Dublin:
  1. The people are kind and generous of spirit and this is reflected in their cooking, be it at Michelin starred restaurant www.lecrivain.com/ or one of the local pubs;
  2. They speak English and I understand them - most of the time;
  3. There is music everywhere;
  4. There are wonderful traditional pubs;
  5. There is great shopping and amazing food stores;
  6. There are tons of ethnic restaurants;
  7. Guinness bread!  made with molasses - so good!
  8. Scones for breakfast - or any time of day for that matter!

I will get back to the scones on the next post.  For now, I have decided to recreate a typical Irish dish called Colcannon.  It is a quick and easy recipe and traditionally it is served as a  mash:  potato, kale or cabbage, green onion, cooked separately and then mixed together once the potatoes have been mashed with cream and butter.  It was traditionally served on Halloween but apparently it is also quite popular on St-Patrick's day.

I had heard of it before but had never tried it so when we saw it on the menu of K.C. Peaches (a really cool, trendy bakery and lunch spot by day - and a fabulous wine and music bar/bistro by night) http://kcpeaches.com/ , I thought we could give it a try.  The waitress (again, so nice) explained that it was a new take on the traditional dish and one of their most popular items.  We were not disappointed.  Instead of a mash, we were served a beautiful bowl of tender potato, large pieces of crisp country bacon and oven roasted sweet spring cabbage, drizzled with olive oil and fresh herbs.  It was delicious.

Because it has three of my favorite ingredients, potatoes, bacon, onions, I knew that I would have to try to make it at home.  I wasn't sure about the cabbage, but the way it was cooked made all the difference.  By roasting it in large chunks with olive oil, it becomes sweet and tender but crunchy at the same time.  I also decided to add caramelized onion to mine as I didn't have green onions.

After a few trials, it became clear that, in order for the cabbage to have the right texture and taste, it would have to be steamed or blanched first for a few minutes before roasting (cabbage is dense and takes a long time to cook - just roasting it is not enough).

You will need: serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a meal (with nice country bread)
  • 1 spring cabbage about 400g, outer leaves removed, cut into wedges and center core trimmed as it is too tough
  • 1 medium onion (100g), cut in half and sliced
  • 6 slices of good quality, thickly sliced bacon, cut into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces
  • 8 medium potatoes (550g), unpeeled and washed (I used raclette type potatoes or Yukon Gold would also work - use a potato that will hold its shape once cooked)
  • 2 tbsp of chopped fresh tarragon (herb that compliments cabbage very well)
  • 2 tbsp of chopped fresh chives (herb that compliments potato very well)
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of seasoned rice vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • large pinch of piment d'espelette, or cayenne (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°C (185°F);
  2. Put about 1/2 inch (2cm) of water in a large pot.  Add the wedges of cabbage and cover.  Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes (check to see if the cabbage is almost cooked - the center core should be easy to pierce with a knife but not be too soft, it will continue cooking when your roast it);
  3. While the cabbage is cooking, put the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot with cold water over high heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium.  Let the potatoes simmer until they are tender when pierced with a knife.  Drain and let cool for about 20 minutes. (Potatoes cooked with the peel will retain more flavor)
  4. Put 1 tbsp of oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the onion slices with a pinch of salt until they begin to caramelize (the salt helps pull out the water from the onions and they will cook faster); set aside;
  5. Place the bacon pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cook in 350°F (185°C) oven for about 5 minutes (watch it carefully as the cooking time will depend on the thickness of the bacon).  It should just start to turn brown.  Remove and let drain on a paper towel lined plate;
  6. When your cabbage is finished steaming, remove it and drain it completely.   Pat it very dry and place in small roasting pan to go into the oven.  Drizzle it with a about 2 tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with salt;
  7. Put the cabbage in the oven at 350°F(185°C) for about 10 - 15 minutes.  Again watch this closely as you just want the outer leaves to begin to color;
  8. Put the cabbage, potato, bacon, onion, chives, tarragon, salt, pepper and piment d'espelette in a bowl and gentle mix together. Taste to make sure seasoning is OK.  Serve warm with a hearty country bread.
Time investment:  Prep time:  15 minutes
                             Cooking time:  30 minutes
                             Total:   45 minutes

To present it this way, I used a batch of Colcannon that I made the day before (so already seasoned and flavors blending together):
  1. Separated the ingredients, cut the potatoes into smaller dice and layered everything in an oiled rectangle cutter shape (cabbage, small diced potatoes, bacon slices).  Keep warm in low oven and just before plating, make sure press down firmly to condense the ingredients so that the presentation will hold its shape;
  2. The recipe is often served with carrots.  These carrots are simply cut out using a miniature melon baller and glazed, i.e. cooked in a pan with a few tbsp of water, a pinch of salt and a tbsp of butter.  Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated and allow to color slightly in the pan.  (this is always the best way to cook carrots).
  3. Place the Colcannon on a small bunch of fresh chives and a little mound of piment d'espelette in the center. Serve warm

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