Let’s say you’re making corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, but you don’t want to make it the usual way by simmering it – you’re going to take that flat, remove some of the salt by soaking it first, then roasting it, and you don’t want to put the potatoes in the pan with it, just the carrots, and you’re skipping the usual way of making the cabbage, too, so that the whole house doesn’t smell of cabbage (or sauerkraut, either) … but you still want to be somewhat traditional. What will you be serving with the corned beef, in that case?
Well, maybe another very traditional Irish dish: colcannon. It’s got shredded cabbage sautéed in butter with thinly sliced leeks or spring onions, maybe a touch of crushed garlic, and all of that is combined with freshly mashed potatoes rich with hot milk, cream and more butter. Classy spring greens mixed into your favorite starch, and the house doesn’t smell of anything other than tantalizing roasted corned beef with caramelized onions and carrots; what’s not to love? And if you make it well, it’s pretty. Never forget: we eat with our eyes, too, not just our taste buds and sense of smell.
Unless you can get tender young leeks from the farmer’s market (so that you don’t waste so much of the dark green part), skip those and use an equal amount of green onions or scallions instead; that’s what I did in the recipe below. Some recipes use kale or Savoy cabbage instead, but I prefer the prettier look of the pale green white or Dutch variety for this dish (especially as this version of colcannon is better looking and better tasting than its English counterpart, the curiously named ‘Bubble & Squeak’). It looks and tastes great with the roasted corned beef, too.
Colcannon with roasted corned beef, onions and carrots serves 4
For the corned beef roast:
3 to 3½ lb. corned beef brisket flat, already brined – choose one with equal thickness all over and a nice layer of fat that covers all of one side
pickling spices (the bag of corned beef probably already contains a packet of this)*
2/3 cup soft, loosely packed brown sugar
yellow or smooth Dijon mustard
8 large carrots, scrubbed, trimmed, peeled and cut into 3-inch-long chunks
1 package pearl onions or 6 large shallots, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1-quart (32 oz.) carton of Swanson’s unsalted beef stock
½ tsp. powdered gelatin
¼ tsp. anchovy paste from a tube
1 large bay leaf
1 pat, knob or tbsp. sweet unsalted butter + 1 tbsp. hazelnut or almond oil
* If you didn’t get pickling spices with your corned beef, just use 10-12 white peppercorns, 10-12 dried green peppercorns, and 10-12 coriander seeds, plus either 2 whole cloves or a pinch of ground cloves, and crush all that together in a mortar very well; don’t worry about the mustard seed – you’ll be using more than enough mustard with the brown sugar. If you like, you can also add a tiny pinch of ground allspice.
For the colcannon:
2 to 2½ lbs. Yukon Gold yellow potatoes
5-6 green onions (aka spring onions or scallions), thoroughly washed, patted dry and trimmed
2 loosely packed cups of shredded Dutch or white (really pale green) cabbage
6 tbsp. sweet unsalted butter, preferably Kerrygold
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. crushed garlic
about 1½ cups milk
1 small carton (½ cup or 4 oz.) of heavy whipping cream
salt and white pepper, to taste
optional: a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- The cooking time for the corned beef is 50 minutes per pound, so your total time should be 2½ to 3 hours for a 3 to 3½ lb. corned beef flat. The night before you make this, soak the corned beef to remove a lot of the salt. When you’re ready to begin cooking it, drain it, rinse briefly and pat it dry. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and find a Dutch oven or deep open rectangular roasting pan with high sides for the corned beef. Scatter the carrot chunks across bottom of pan, then the pearl onions or quartered shallots in between. Pour the stock into a 3-qt. saucepan; scatter the gelatin over the surface of the stock, then add anchovy paste and stir. Bring almost to a boil over medium-high heat, then remove from heat. Pour enough stock over the carrots and onions/shallots to completely cover them. Add unsalted butter and hazelnut or almond oil to the roasting pan. Set aside leftover stock.
- Place the corned beef fat side up on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan. Mix brown sugar with enough mustard to form a paste that spreads easily. In a mortar, grind well the pickling spice (or its alternative mix), then add it to the brown sugar-mustard paste; mix well and spread it over the top of the corned beef. Put it in the oven and set your timer for a minimum of 2 hours (keep an eye on the roast meanwhile and check the pan at that time; if the liquid gets too low and is almost completely evaporated, add a splash more stock to the pan). Return pan to oven and finish roasting.
- For the colcannon: Cut the shredded cabbage so that no piece is longer than about 2 inches. In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp. unsalted butter with 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat; stir in the shredded cabbage and sauté, stirring, until it begins to soften. Meanwhile, thinly slice the white and light green parts of the green onions, then the dark green parts; set aside the sliced dark green bits and add the white and light green parts to the softened cabbage, along with the crushed garlic. Sauté for about a minute or two but don’t let the garlic burn. Remove from heat, cover pan and set aside.
- In a saucepan, combine milk and 4 tbsp. butter, heat through until hot but don’t boil it; remove from heat but keep it warm (cover saucepan and wrap in a kitchen towel). Peel, halve and boil potatoes in salted water until a knife inserted into a potato goes through easily; drain well. Add cream to warm milk and butter. Using a hand masher, crush cooked potatoes lightly to desired consistency (don’t whip!), adding milk-cream-butter mix a few ounces at a time, plus salt and white pepper to taste. Mix in the scallion-cabbage-garlic blend and half the dark green parts of the thinly sliced scallions; if you like, add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, then stir the greens into the mashed potatoes and turn out into a warm serving bowl. Sprinkle the remaining sliced scallions across the top of the colcannon. Place the corned beef in the center of a serving platter and surround with caramelized carrots and onions. Serve immediately with the colcannon on the side.
Photo credits: Featured image – colcannon with melted cheese garnish (courtesy of Glane23 via Wikimedia Commons); corned beef and cabbage, above (courtesy of Jonathunder via Wikimedia Commons); crop of Dutch or white cabbage, below (public domain image courtesy of USDA)