Colcannon with St. Peter's Cream Stout Gravy
The humble cabbage. The sometimes stage prop for Anne Geddes, who seems to love placing infants in vegetables and flower pots, and the sturdy staple of Irish/American cooking. Of course the Irish have no especial ownership of the cabbage. If you haven't tried a Polish dish of Golumpkis, then you haven't tasted the epitome of cabbage comfort food. I love cabbage that is fried until it is tender and crisp, covered in butter and perfectly salted. I love cabbage, I admit! It's cooperative and versatile, loves apples, onions, vinegar, and can really get down in a pierogi. Colcannon is not only a dish I cook to feel akin to my Irish heritage, it is the dish that allows me to mix things into my mashed potatoes. Speaking of babies and vegetables...
Colcannon, the Irish for "white-headed cabbage", is suitable not only for St. Patrick's Day but for any and all seasons of the year. While it is traditionally a harvest festival dish, I always remember how much I enjoy it in the spring time. If not cabbage than kale or bright rainbow chard can be sautéed and folded into the creamy clouds. I added caramelized onions to my dish but leeks would be a dream, like cabbage they yield perfectly to cream, butter, and salt. The first weeks of March may bear promises of warmth but the mild winds remain, and my ribs still want that stick-to-it stuff. This dish is for transitions and covering in gravy. Beer gravy has just busted into my world and taken over. So why not cover our be-speckled mash with sweet and sour goodness?
I have always celebrated St. Patrick's day in my own adoring way. Mostly by listening to traditional Celtic music while making soda bread and pretending I lived in a white-washed cottage by the sea. I know where my ancestors hailed from and like many multi-generational Americans, I want a richer context and a more substantial story about where I am from and where I belong. The older I have grown, the less compelled I feel to lay claim to a nationality. What I lose in specificity I make up for in wonder. I am just a being that calls this planet home, as such I can explore and take part of so many amazing and delicious traditions. So yes I am Irish, but I am also Scottish, American, Native American and most applicably, human. So, none of these. What a gift to both preserve and participate. Bob Dylan is one of my favorite musician/poets because he approached belonging with such freedom and joy. He wrote his own creation story and we should feel free to do the same. These are my songs, and this is a story that expresses something about me that I would like to share with you. The countries where I have felt most myself and at home, are not the one that I was born in. That's okay I think. When Americans lay claim to a certain heritage or country other than America, it is a telling of factual relationships and journeys in which families have been involved. Yet it is also a laying claim to certain qualities and ways of being that a person or family would like to identify with. Hospitality, warmth, volume, intelligence, humor, musical ability, you name it. America is so often a story about somewhere else. For me being American means a certain openness to not being American, to being a bearer of the stories of all people, to cooking food that brings me closer to the center of our common story. Myth making makes us feel more at home here, it's what we love to do. Mash potatoes and gravy feels right on so many levels of my continuing creation story. Love, love is written all over this dish.
For this gravy I used and English brewed beer but Guinness is absolutely perfect for making gravy with. Any brew that you like as long as it is malty, dark, and downright creamy. St. Peter's Porters and Stouts are delicious and beautifully bottled. It's the the theologian in me that can't resist anything named after a Saint or two.
Colcannon and St. Peter's Cream Stout Gravy
3 medium to large russet potatoes
1 healthy head white cabbage
1 lusty onion or 3 leeks, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (I tried to be conservative with the butter)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon creme fraiche
1 tablespoon of horseradish (optional? Irresistible.)
Peel potatoes and slice into chunks. Place in a pot of water so that they are covered and boil until tender. While potatoes are boiling, slice cabbage and add it a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil, 2 teaspoons of butter, salt to taste, and a splash of water. Cook until the cabbage is tender and starts to get golden brown at edges. I cooked my cabbage in two batches as it does cook down considerably. Ooo yum!
After cabbage is cooked, put aside in small bowl. In the same skillet add more olive oil, another good knob of butter, sliced onion and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Cook slowly on medium heat until onions are golden and caramelized, add a touch of salt to taste. Chop roughly on cutting board and add to cabbage mixture. Once potatoes are ready, drain and return to pot. Add 1/2 stick of butter, buttermilk, salt and pepper, horseradish and creme fraiche. Mash with a hand masher or a fork. Potatoes will seem wet but thats a good thing. No dry mashed potatoes here! If they are, just add a few more splashes of buttermilk. Taste, it probably needs more salt. When you are satisfied with your mash mixture, fold in cabbage and onions. Lovely!
Now for the gravy...
1 bottle cream stout porter or Guinness
2 Tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour
1 teaspoon and more salt to taste
In a small saucepan on medium heat, add butter and melt. Add in 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour and stir with a whisk until a deeper golden color. This is a roux like gravy, just like the base of any good gumbo. Add milk to the paste and whisk quickly to smooth out any lumps. Mixture will thicken quickly, turn down the heat if you feel that it is too quickly. Now add 1/2 cup of the stout and stir. Add a teaspoon of salt. Now this is an adjust as you go process. If the mixture still is too thick, add more milk. Add more stout. Add a little more salt. Keep tasting and whisking until contents of pan reach gravy town. Yes, this is a place and it's wonderful.
Be well dear folks...next time I will be celebrating a birthday by making cookies for everyone I clap eyes on! I leave you with a little belonging song from Bob.
I love you more than ever, more than time and more than love I love you more than money and more than the stars above Love you more than madness, more than waves upon the sea Love you more than life itself, you mean that much to me
You breathed on me and made my life a richer one to live When I was deep in poverty you taught me how to give Dried the tears up from my dreams and pulled me from the hole Quenched my thirst and satisfied the burning in my soul
The tune that is yours and mine to play upon this earth We’ll play it out the best we know, whatever it is worth What’s lost is lost, we can’t regain what went down in the flood But happiness to me is you and I love you more than blood
-Wedding Song, Bob Dylan