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Eric Akis: Celebrate St. Paddy's Day with salmon and colcannon

Popular Irish dish combines buttery mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale
Roasted salmon is topped with a whiskey cream sauce and served with colcannon. ERIC AKIS

Many people around the world, Irish or not, will mark St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday. They might have a drink or two, enjoy some Irish music and dig into some traditional Irish food.

A dish that might be served is colcannon, which combines creamy, buttery mashed potatoes with cooked bits of cabbage or kale. The word “colcannon” is derived from the Gaelic “cal ceannann,” which means “white-headed cabbage.”

Cabbage and kale are important parts of Ireland’s ancestral diet. By the 1700s, potatoes had also become an integral part of many meals. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to make a dish that combined the two, and a much-loved creation called colcannon became a staple of Irish cuisine.

In Ireland, colcannon is historically connected with Halloween and marriage divination. In the past, when colcannon was served on that day, charms were mixed into it. The type of charm you found while eating was an omen of what your marital status might be in the coming year.

Colcannon, of course, can be enjoyed any time of year, and, as with any dish that has been made for a long time, how it’s prepared can differ from cook to cook and home to home.

The many recipes I reviewed varied in terms of how the potatoes were prepared, how much cabbage or kale and butter was added, whether cream or milk was used, and if sliced green onions or leeks were incorporated. But the end result was always the same: a hearty, comforting and sustaining dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale.

According to Clare Connery’s book Irish Food and Folklore, colcannon can be served as a main dish or, as is frequently done, to accompany meat or fish. I like to serve it with salmon, which is enjoyed in Ireland, not to mention B.C.

To keep the Irish theme going, I roasted and topped the salmon fillets with an Irish whiskey mustard cream sauce. It’s a rich and splendid combination that went well with the colcannon, and would be a nice meal to enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day.

Note: For information about sustainable types of salmon to purchase, go to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Oceanwise website, Once there, enter salmon into the search engine.

Roasted Salmon with Colcannon and Whiskey Mustard Cream Sauce

These salmon fillets are roasted and served with a rich, whiskey-infused cream sauce and colcannon. Serve the fish and colcannon with another vegetable, such as snap-top carrots. This recipe, and the one below, could be halved, if you are only serving two, or further expanded if you are feeding a larger group.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 12 to 15 minutes

Makes: four servings

4 (5 to 6 oz./140 to 170 g) salmon fillets

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp butter, melted

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Irish whiskey (see Eric’s options)

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

1 (1 cup/237 mL) container whipping cream

2 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

• colcannon (see recipe below)

• thinly sliced green onion, to taste, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the salmon on it. Brush fish with the melted butter; season with salt and pepper. Roast salmon 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked through.

While fish cooks, place whiskey and tarragon in a small-medium pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce whiskey to 1 Tbsp. (Be careful that the whiskey does not spill over the sides of the pot, or it may ignite.) Add the cream and simmer until lightly thickened. Whisk in the mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Cover sauce and reserve on low heat.

When salmon is cooked, mound some colcannon on one side of each of four dinner plates and sprinkle with green onion, if using. Set a piece of salmon on each plate, top it with the sauce and serve.

Eric’s options: You can make the sauce for the salmon many hours before needed. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate in the pot until ready to reheat and serve with the salmon. If you can’t have alcohol, or don’t wish to use it, replace the whiskey with 1/4 cup fish or chicken stock, and reduce it as described for the whiskey.


Creamy, buttery, Irish-style mashed potatoes with green onions and bright green, chopped, cooked kale mixed in.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 22 minutes

Makes: four servings

2 cups (fairly loosely packed) thinly shredded kale leaves (see Note 1)

1 1/2 lbs yellow-fleshed or russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/3 cup warm whole milk or light cream (see Note 2)

3 Tbsp butter, melted

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

2 green onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced, widthwise

Place potatoes in a pot, cover with two-inches of cold water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and gently simmer potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

While potatoes cook, pour one cup of water into a wide skillet or pot, set over medium, medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add kale and cook until just tender, three to four minutes. Set a colander in a sink. When kale is cooked, spoon into the colander and drain well.

When potatoes are tender, drain well, and then thoroughly mash. Beat in the milk (or cream) and butter. Mix in the kale, salt, pepper and green onion, and serve.

Note 1: Four medium-sized fresh kale leaves, washed well, should yield the shredded amount needed here. To prepare it, pull the leafy parts off the tough centre rib of each piece of kale. Compost those ribs or use for stock. Use a sharp knife to thinly shred the leafy parts of the kale, measure and use as directed in the recipe.

Note 2: You can warm the milk (or cream) and melt the butter by zapping them together in a bowl in the microwave. You can also do that by setting them in a small pot and warming them together over medium heat on the stovetop.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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