Monday, March 21, 2011

Shandong Irishman


I suspect that colcannon is to Irish people what meatloaf is to Americans- everybody has their own recipe which is indisputably the only correct version. I'm not Irish. I mean, so not Irish that I'm sort of convinced that even the white parts of me aren't Irish- they're Scots, as far as I know. Be that as it may, I wasn't kidding about the napa cabbage, that thing is haunting me.

The first time I encountered colcannon was at a party at Tom Harari's parent's house. I couldn't have been as much as 12 years old, because I remember all the adults being way taller than me. I don't remember what the party was in aid of, but it probably was not St. Patrick's day. Some lady brought colcannon. I thought, "Awesome! Mashed potatoes!" because, like Jej, I have a thing for mashed potatoes.  I was really disappointed. The dish was cold. It didn't have any salt in it. The chopped vegetables in it were stiff, and undercooked, and cut up into large, unwieldy lumps. The parsley in it had sand stuck in its leaves. I kept hearing other people say "Did you try the colcannon? Try the colcannon, its great. You should try it." I started to think the name sounded really stupid. I have to assume this was one of those instances of kids having an adverse reaction to things which don't bother grown-ups- either that or the place was just full of feckless hippies who couldn't cook and didn't know any better.

The experience gave me a prejudice against colcannon for about 25 years. I don't know what happened after that, but one day I found myself thinking "Hmmm. Cabbage. Hmmm. Potatoes. Sounds good!" Now I make it several times every winter. This is the only time I've made it with a napa cabbage, though. Somehow, it didn't leap to mind, you know? But, since St. Pat's was just the other day, it seemed natural. This really doesn't come out any different from the traditional versions, because once they are cooked, napa and regular cabbage taste quite similar. Napa is a bit less stinky, and has a slightly more delicate texture, and so requires less cooking than ordinary cabbage.

about 3/4 lb potatoes. I like baby yellow ones.
about 1/4 of a medium sized napa cabbage
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons butter
salt to taste
2 or 3 tablespoons minced parsley. I like the curly kind, the bouncy texture is nice.
a little pepper

Chop the potatoes coarsely. I don't like to peel things, which is why I get baby potatoes. The skins are more appealing to eat. Dice the onion and put them and the potatoes in a heavy pot with just enough water to cover them. Bring them to a medium boil, and keep them there until the water has almost all evaporated. Add the butter and the napa leaves, coarsly chopped. Stir everything up and add a pinch or two of salt, to help wilt the cabbage. Leave it on the heat until all the water is gone and there is a fair amount of browning on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, let it sit for a minute, then stir in the minced parsley, bash up the potatoes a little bit, and taste for salt and pepper. Remember to scrape the yummy brown bits off the pan, they're important.

I'm not selling this idea particularly well, am I? Trust me, this is really good comfort food. It takes no brains to cook, and anything that has onions browned in butter gets automatic approval from me.

There's cheese in the picture. I think everything, nearly, goes with cheese, and this particular cheese is a favorite of mine. Cashel Blue, besides being appropriately Irish, is a very mild, soft blue cheese. TJ's has it this month. Then there are the little oranges which I mostly put there for compositional reasons, but also because they're very chinesey, but I later realized that actually eating all these things together is a good idea. There is a tremendous amount of fat and salt in the cheese and potatoes, which is balanced by the sweet/acid from the clementines.

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