Gourmandistan

Irish Colcannon runs through Appalachia, giving Gourmandistan another tribe to talk about

Gourmandistan has already employed St. Patrick’s day as an excuse to make fun of Michellle’s Irish heritage. This year we thought we’d add Appalachia to the holiday mix, as it’s quite possible one or two of Michelle’s ancestors spent some time there, as many did, between Ireland and settling in other parts of U.S. We could wind through the many, many derogatory stereotypes of this mountainous region spanning the United States from New York to Alabama. However, that would needlessly offend some very sweet friends in Eastern Kentucky. Like many places in the world, Appalachia is a land of contrasts (and unfortunately, a lot of missing mountaintops).

Elk on leveled mountaintop, Eastern KY

There are plenty of people who want to condemn Appalachia, especially after the region went big for Donald Trump. But a growing number want to elevate its status, some through its cuisine. Ronni Lundy is one of the latter.

Lundy was raised in Louisville after being born in the Appalachian town of Corbin, Kentucky. A noted author, magazine editor and former restaurant reviewer and music critic for the Louisville Courier-Journal, Lundy’s latest cookbook is Victuals, which she insists be pronounced “vittles” and is “about present-day people and places across the Southern Appalachian Mountains and the way their stories link to the past.” She joins chefs such as Sean Brock and craftsmen such as Allan Benton in bringing out some of the best Appalachia has to offer.

We can’t say this colcannon is particularly Appalachian, though Lundy does trace its recipe to a restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, another outpost in Appalachia. (We have some friends there as well.) She relates a childhood story of her mother insisting kale and mashed potato always be mixed together, realizing only later in life that it was an “Irish” part of her “Scotch-Irish” Appalachian heritage coming out. Whatever the case, this colcannon with its ultra-rich mash made a great introduction to Lundy’s cookbook—and a delicious way to say “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” to everyone.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

COLCANNON

(adapted from Ronni Lundy’s Victuals)

  • 1 bunch kale (3/4 to 1 lb.), stemmed and chopped
  • 2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 8 + 1 TB unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. dry mustard
  • Generous pinch of cayenne
  • 1/3 c. light beer
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 lb. bacon, cooked and chopped

Cook kale in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and plunge into a large bowl of ice water. Drain again and set aside.

Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain, then return to the pot and mash with 8 tablespoons of butter (or as much of it as you can use without feeling too decadent) and the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Add onion and season with salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until onion is soft and starting to brown in places. Add cabbage, garlic, bay leaf and dried seasonings. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage is wilted.

Add beer to cabbage mixture and stir until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Then add broth, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved kale, season with salt and pepper, and cook until warmed through.

Serve the mashed potatoes covered with the cabbage/kale mixture and sprinkled with bacon.

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31 comments

  1. Great recipe! I’ve been in those mountains, though on my camping trip, I remember frying sausage, bacon and eggs, with Rolling Rock to wash it down – now I realise I was doing something wrong.
    I was really impressed by the first James Lee Burke novel I read, around then, set in Harlan County, Kentucky and about struggling coal miners. Quite powerful stuff, especially the revivalist meetings with rattle snakes.

  2. I’ve had some really bad colcannon in the past but this recipe looks absolutely delicious. I like the look of that book, you have seriously undermined my pledge not to buy any new cookbooks!

  3. Potatoes + 9 TB butter + cream + bear + bacon—- what’s not to like?….whenever I come across such exuberant dishes there is a part of me that would like to rush to the kitchen and start making them and, at the same time, there is another part that wonders (more and more) if food has to be THIS rich in order to be delicious…when we had the restaurant I was one of those chefs who, when struggling to make a dish sing, would add butter, cream, oil, wine ecc… but I knew deep down that, somehow, I was “cheating”; is adding all this fat (it cold be sugar) really enhancing the dish or is it an easy way out? Cooking in a lighter way, without a lose in flavor, is much more difficult and it requires more discipline, I find, but the results can be revelatory. often.
    I am re-reading Cuisin Mincuer by Michel Guerard and I find it still valuable, at least is its “message”, that is possible to eat well AND pay attention to fat and sugars. I wonder, for instance, if, in this colcannon, the butter could be reduced by half without this being detrimental to the final taste, or if it really needs half a cup of double cream (instead of ¼ C) of if that beer is really necessary to the balance of the dish ecc…Of course, I have written this after having made an amazing almond and rum tart whose calories and deliciousness are beyond description 🙂

    • You certainly could reduce the butter. And I started to, but then decided to go with the recipe (even though it does almost reach Robuchon potato levels). But, I will say this: the greens are cooked in very little fat. So I think it does sort of even itself out. And, even if just 4 servings as a main course, that’s just a little over 2 tablespoons butter per. A good bit, but not horribly so. (Though, yeah, I know, there’s cream, too…)

      Ah, the “slimming cooking.” I lived through the ’80s and the days of big white plates with little food costing much money and don’t really want to go back. 🙂 We did go to Guerard’s cheaper place, La Ferme aux Grives, once. It was so lovely. But I got in trouble for taking a picture. The waitress kept trying to explain, very patiently, that I could take a picture of Steve … so long as I didn’t get any of the restaurant itself in the background. My French is good enough to understand what she was saying. But not quite good enough to respond “what the f*#%?” in a nice way in response.

      • …ah, ok… your numbers put the whole dish into a different light! 🙂 + ah, le charm de le french, pardon my non existent french..also because I wonder at the times, how many people were actually taking pics of the food…. now I could just understand, up to a point…. + I agree that little lighter cooking in big white plates @ hefty prices is not something to look back nostalgically, but there is still something to be said about cooking with care when it comes to fat and sugar (I am not talking about this recipe in particular now): too often chefs especially are so heavy handed with butter and cream, to make me cringe: recently I had a cream pumpkin soup in a posh London restaurant that was basically double cream with the faintest taste of pumpkin ecc….
        …. ah yes, of course… and then there is Robuchon mash! :))))

  4. I love this – in fact I make this when I am feeling a little bit down – something about the creamy fatty mashed potatoes and the cabbage (or kale in my case) and eating it out of a bowl with a spoon – (my mother would be appalled – I hope you are both well, it has been so long since I visited and here you are still making marvellous food (and I am still growing it) – have a gorgeous weekend – c

    • Oh, thank you, and so nice to see you. I absolutely adored your post from yesterday about traveling and coming home, but was so sleepy at the time I read it late last night that I couldn’t muster a comment. Keep growing that wonderful food. And photographing and writing about it. ❤

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