christmas colcannon

Christmas colcannon

17 December 2013

It’s hit-and-miss with our annual potato dish for Christmas dinner. In ambitious years I try something new, like Ruth Reichl’s gratin dauphinois (not such a hit, but it made good leftover soup). In lazy years we bake whole potatoes and have everyone load them up as they like. But this year, colcannon – mashed potatoes with personality – is the perfect easy-but-interesting compromise.

A classic dish in Ireland, colcannon is simply mashed potatoes enhanced with shredded kale or cabbage, traditionally served with a little well of butter in the center. Cabbage is the most subtle addition, giving the potatoes a toothsome soft crunch and interest. Kale makes a lovely green version for a St Patrick’s Day meal.

Recently I made colcannon with red chard, and I realized halfway that I might end up with pink potatoes. Good thing it’s Christmas season. Red and green mashed potatoes? Totally intentional.

Chard is a fantastic leafy green vegetable – like spinach without the funny feeling on your teeth. Versatile and nutrient-dense, by all rights it should be more popular than it is. Basic swiss chard comes with white stalks, which would bypass the pink potato issue. I cut out the tough stalks, which left only a little red.

swiss chard

I was dismayed to see that my Yukon Gold potatoes, stored for two weeks in the garage, had turned a wee bit green. I could have gone to the store and bought a new bag, but chinese grandmas can’t abide waste.

So I did some research and found that while green in potatoes can indicate a high level of potentially toxic solanine, commercially bred varieties are only low-solanine types. Also, solanine is present just under the skin, and I was going to peel my potatoes anyway.

Storing potatoes is tricky. Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark place: greening only happens with light, and less so at cooler temperatures. But at too-cool temperatures (eg refrigerator), potatoes convert starch to sugar, another undesirable outcome.

Those of us without a root cellar are better of just buying potatoes shortly before using. That way we leave the storage problem to the professionals.

green yukon golds

If your pot has a tight-fitting lid, you don’t need to cover the potatoes with water. Simply fill part way up, then put the lid on and simmer. The potatoes on top will steam done instead of boiling.

The potatoes didn’t look as green after cooking. But to be safe I took off a layer of potato with the peel.

Cold water on the hot potato will cause the skin to contract, making it very easy to pull off the skin. (Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, made a popular YouTube video for the Idaho Potato Commission demonstrating this method.)

steamed potatoes

Another tip: when you want to keep potatoes hot, cover with a dishcloth to absorb steam. A pot lid will build moisture that can make the potatoes watery, but a towel will keep them both warm and dry.

towel for steam

The chard wilts down in minutes.

cooking chard

cooked chard

Years ago, Cooks Illustrated determined that mashing potatoes with butter before adding milk worked best. So I always mash with butter first out of habit.

mashing potatoes

Heat the milk with the scallions, as seems to be the Irish method.

milk green onions

Add the chard and milk, mixing together with the mashed potatoes.

mixing colcannon

A perfect side to a holiday roast or ham. Leave it to the Irish to come up with the perfect potato dish.

colcannon with chard

Christmas Colcannon
Colcannon is Ireland’s take on mashed potatoes with personality. Kale makes a nice green colcannon for St Patrick’s Day, but red chard makes a red and green version for Christmas. Shredded cabbage is best if you want your green-enhanced mashed potatoes to be more discreet. Adapted from Simply Recipes.


  • 3 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 6 cups thinly sliced chard leaves, thick stems removed (about 1 bunch – can also use cabbage or kale)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (2 tablespoons for cooking chard; the rest for mashing potatoes)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup scallions or chives, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Scrub potatoes well and place whole potatoes in large pot with a tightly-fitting lid. Add water to a level about 1/3 up the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover pot, then reduce heat to low. Cook 25-35 minutes, depending on size of potatoes, until potatoes poked with a fork easily pierce through.
  2. While potatoes are cooking, melt two tablespoons butter in a pan over medium heat. Add chard and cook briefly until wilted. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat milk with scallions on stovetop or microwave.
  4. Plunge cooked potatoes into cold/ice water for a few seconds, then pull peel off and return hot potatoes to pot.
  5. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mash with potato masher or fork, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add cooked chard and milk, mixing together and adjusting seasonings as necessary. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.


  • You don’t have to use this method for cooking potatoes – peel, cut and boil works fine too. Cooking potatoes in their skins keeps a little more flavor and nutrition, and it saves you the trouble of peeling the raw potatoes. Watch this video for a demonstration of a quick method for peeling hot potatoes.
  • Cut butter in half if you like, though you may need to add a bit more milk. I’m indulging here for Christmas.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalie || The Devil Wears Parsley 17 December 2013 at 10:14 am

They had some lovely rainbow chard at the farmer’s market last weekend. Now I know what to do with it! This dish looks soooo good and comforting!


cg 19 December 2013 at 12:53 pm

hi natalie – rainbow potatoes – awesome! hope you enjoy it. =)


Brooke 18 December 2013 at 6:55 am

This looks amazing! We are attempting a Bacon-Wrapped Pork Lion with Cherries (From Real Simple too) for Christmas Eve so this may be our side!
Thanks as always for sharing. Merry Christmas CG.


cg 19 December 2013 at 12:54 pm

ooh brooke – you are always trying such great stuff. yum!


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