An Irish side dish for St. Patrick’s Day

They say dogs are incapable of experiencing embarrassment. So putting a sign around the pooch’s neck with a “confession” for the consumption of the internet set is a colossal, mean-spirited waste of time.

So knock it off — it’s not nice. What if your dog turned the tables and posted humiliating snaps of you eating Lucky Charms in your underwear?

Normally my self-consciousness knows no bounds. My natural complexion is red-faced. I am convinced that my entire life is one big blooper reel packaged for the world’s amusement.

But when it comes to corned beef, I am decidedly canine. I could eat my weight of it in front of the queen, and feel nothing but satisfaction. I could proudly down a Reuben roughly the size and shape of a dorm fridge.

What is this embarrassment of which you speak?

In previous columns, I have sung its praises and waxed rhapsodic about my friend, corned beef.

So today, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I thought I would share with you, Gentle Reader, my version of a side dish that is even more appropriate and traditional than corned beef at the Saint Patrick’s Day feast.

The process of corning meat is very similar to turning pork into ham. It’s a way to preserve meat. But peasants in Ireland could not afford beef. Cows require a lot of very fertile land. Pigs don’t need much space and are not finicky eaters. So when the Irish were lucky enough to have meat on their table, it was usually some version of preserved pork.

When the Irish came to America, they discovered rather than a luxury, canned corned beef was cheap food to fill hungry bellies.

In Ireland, corned beef has no real historical foundation. But to meet tourists’ expectations (especially American tourists), it can be found in restaurants throughout Ireland.

This side dish, though, is pure Irish. It’s colcannon, which is made with potatoes, cabbage, onions, and bacon. The ingredients are humble and readily available on the Emerald Isle. The extra ingredient is time, which costs nothing but can’t be bought.

When making this, try to have the skillet containing the onions and cabbage ready to go when the potatoes are finished cooking, so everything is hot enough to both melt the butter and serve.

Colcannon with cabbage two ways

6 medium red skin or Yukon Gold potatoes

1 large Russet potato

1 head regular cabbage

1 large yellow onion

8 slices bacon

1 stick butter

1 cup heavy cream

Salt & pepper to taste

Cut bacon into one-inch strips and cook in a skillet on medium-low until crispy.

While bacon is cooking, cut cabbage in half, and core. Cut one half into large chunks. Slice the other half very thin.

Peel potatoes and cut into similar sized chunks. Place in a large pot of heavily salted water. Turn on medium-high and cook until not quite tender. Put cabbage chunks into the water and continue cooking until everything's fork tender. Drain, then put back into pot.

After bacon has finished, remove from frying pan, but keep in the fat. Slice onion into thin half-moons. Turn skillet to medium-low and add onions and season. When the onions start to turn golden, add cabbage, season, and cook until the vegetables are amber colored.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan on low.

Assembly: Pour caramelized onions and sliced cabbage into pot with potatoes and cabbage chunks. Add 6 tablespoons of butter which you’ve cut into chunks. Mash with potato masher until mostly smooth, but with a little chunk left.

A little at a time, stir in cream. You want these just a little looser than you want the finished product (the starch in the spuds will tighten it up some). Season, taste, and season again if needed. Put into serving dish, dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle top with crispy bacon.

Serves 6-8 diners.

Like most potato dishes, this one reheats well, and also makes a mighty tasty potato pancake. But you don’t have to wait for St. Paddy’s Day to enjoy it.

And about the fact that corned beef isn’t a traditional Irish food…

Don’t care. Want large amounts anyway.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes, and cooks in Durham. Contact her at