It’s all about the potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day


On St. Patrick’s Day, many people sit down to a traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage to celebrate. But why do we focus on the meat and green vegetable when we refer to this traditional meal? In reality, the Irish probably had more potatoes than meat or cabbage in the original version. The potato, after all, was their sustenance.

Coming to Ireland from the New World, potatoes became the staple food for the impoverished masses by the mid-17th century. When a fungus infected Ireland’s potato crops in 1845 and 1846, starvation claimed more than a million lives. The potato famine also led to mass migration, as many Irish families came to America in hopes of starting over. Their potato recipes came with them.

Here are a few of the traditional recipes featuring the all-important potato. Add one to your St. Patrick’s Day meal to honor the Irish spirit of survival and celebration.

Champ

This Irish version of mashed potatoes is very tasty. Makes enough for 4 servings.

1 1/2 pounds cooked potatoes

4 ounces scallions

1/2 cup hot milk

Salt and pepper to taste

4 large pats of butter

Drain and peel potatoes; dry completely. Trim the scallions and slice thinly, including green parts. Put scallions and milk in a saucepan; simmer until scallions are soft. Remove scallions from milk and beat them into the potatoes. Gradually add the hot milk until mixture is fluffy; add salt and pepper to taste. Put a mound of potatoes on each of four plates. Make a well in the center of each mound; put a pat of butter in centers and serve hot.

Colcannon

This is another Irish mashed potato recipe, with a little cabbage thrown in. If you prefer, you can use kale instead of cabbage, and leeks instead of scallions. Recipe from “The Cooking of the British Isles” by Time-Life Books; makes 4 to 6 servings.

6 medium sized boiling potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and quartered

4 cups finely shredded green cabbage (about 1 pound)

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup lukewarm milk

6 medium scallions, including 2 inches of the green parts, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

1 teaspoon salt

Fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Boil potatoes in lightly salted water to cover by 2 inches. Boil until tender but not falling apart. Place cabbage in separate pot; pour in enough water to cover completely and boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly in a colander. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet. When foam subsides, add cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Cover skillet; remove from heat. Drain potatoes; return them to pan. Shake over low heat until they are dry and mealy. Mash to a smooth puree with a fork or mixer. Beat remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into potatoes, then add 1/2 cup of the milk, 2 tablespoons at a time. Make a puree thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon. Stir in the cooked cabbage and scallions; add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a heated serving bowl, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Boxty cakes

This is the Irish version of potato pancakes, combining raw and cooked potatoes into mouthwatering patties. Recipe makes about a dozen cakes.

1/2 pound hot cooked potatoes (leftovers are fine here)

1/2 pound grated raw potatoes

Approximately 2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

Salt and pepper to taste

Approximately 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Butter

Peel the cooked potatoes; mash in a large bowl. Stir in the raw potatoes, flour and baking soda. Add salt and pepper to taste; add enough buttermilk to make a stiff batter. Shape batter into twelve 3-inch patties about 1/4-inch thick. Melt enough butter in a pan to coat bottom; fry patties until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate and serve warm.

Dublin coddle

Simply potatoes boiled with ham, onion and sausage, this is a variation of the corned beef and cabbage dinner that we have come to know. Recipe adapted from “The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors” by Jeff Smith; makes 8 servings.

1 1/2 pounds pork sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds smoked ham, cut into 1-inch dice

1 quart boiling water

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced or quartered

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place sausage and ham into boiling water; boil for 5 minutes. Drain; reserve liquid. Put meats into a large saucepan with onions, potatoes and parsley. Add enough of the meat stock to not quite cover. Simmer mixture, covered, for about an hour or until liquid is reduced by half and all ingredients are cooked but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.