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Here's everything you need to know about this traditional Irish dish.

By Melanie Fincher
Updated February 24, 2021
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While you're probably familiar with popular St. Patrick's Day dishes like corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and shepherd's pie, fewer people outside of Ireland are familiar with colcannon. This Irish potato dish is traditionally served on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland and beyond. And as the masters of potato-dishes, the Irish have perfected this creamy mixture of potatoes and cabbage. Learn everything you need to know about this essential Irish dish, including how to make it yourself this St. Patrick's Day.

What Is Colcannon? A Brief History of This Irish Staple

Colcannon is a mixture of cooked and shredded cabbage and mashed potatoes. The word colcannon is derived from the Gaelic term cal ceannann, which means "white-headed cabbage" — the vegetable most commonly mixed with potatoes in this dish.

It's often served alongside Irish meats, and is made by combining potatoes and greens (usually cabbage, but kale and other leafy greens are sometimes used). There are many variations of colcannon, as cooks would use whatever they had on hand. Traditionally, melted butter is poured into the center of the dish creating a "well" of butter.

It's no surprise these ingredients were combined to make this traditional dish: potatoes and cabbage were considered foods of the common people during the 17th and 18th centuries. So combining these ingredients made for a dish that was both affordable and accessible to most people in Ireland.

In fact, the dish became such a staple in Irish cuisine that there's even a children's song written about it. Here's an excerpt from the song, The Auld Skillet Pot:

Well, did you ever make colcannon made with lovely pickled cream
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the 'melting' flake
Of the creamy flavoured butter that our mothers used to make

While Americans might think of the dish more in association with St. Patrick's Day, in Ireland it was traditionally associated with Halloween. According to Irish Central, charms were mixed into the batch of colcannon, and whatever you found predicted your future.

But aside from fortune telling, this dish serves as a staple in Irish cuisine. In Ireland, colcannon is not reserved for just St. Patrick's Day (although you'll likely find it at any Irish St. Patrick's Day celebration). It's a year-round staple, that pairs well with most other Irish fare, including corned beef and cabbage. Consider adding this Irish staple to your St. Patrick's Day menu this year.

How to Make Colcannon

This version of colcannon is based on Diane's Colcannon recipe from DianeF. "While colcannon seems to be associated with St. Patrick's Day, I love the combination of potatoes, cabbage, onion, and bacon all through the cooler months of fall and winter," says recipe creator DianeF. "I attend an annual St. Paddy's Day party and this is the dish I'm always asked to bring...and I'm happy to say that the bowl comes home empty every time!"

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/2 small head cabbage, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Instructions:

  1. Cook the potatoes. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender.
  2. Cook the bacon. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, reserving drippings, crumble and set aside.
  3. Cook the cabbage. In the reserved drippings, saute the cabbage and onion until soft and translucent. Putting a lid on the pan helps the vegetables cook faster.
  4. Mash and mix the potatoes. Drain the cooked potatoes, mash with milk and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the bacon, cabbage, and onions, then transfer the mixture to a large serving bowl.
  5. Top it all off with butter. Make a well in the center, and pour in the melted butter. Serve immediately.

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