Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Champ Potatoes

Mashed potatoes whipped with a green onion infused milk.
Mashed potatoes whipped with a green onion infused milk.

Irish Champ Potatoes

Unless Mama Nature intended they be green by her own hand, I'm not big on green colored food for St. Patrick's Day. Don't get me wrong - I do think it's fun, especially if you have children who can appreciate a quirky green meal, or maybe even a spouse who won't mind the ribbing from their workmates. I love the color green, but I'm not generally too big on using green dye to color things green either. Well... there might be an exception or two, but essentially my menu of St. Patrick's Day meal ideas is more a mix of traditional Irish food, with Irish-American food, and, well... just good ole regular food that might fit the theme.

I've got a meat and potatoes eatin' man living in my house, so potatoes are always a staple under this roof, and I love having a variety of ways to serve them. Darina Allen, in her book, Traditional Irish Cooking, and whose method I used below, notes that potatoes, a definite staple in the Irish home, were often cooked in very large quantities, and it was the job of the man of the house to beat them smooth, usually with a heavy, wooden pestle called a beetle. As he beat the pot of potatoes, the lady of the house would add in the milk and whatever else was to be included, often cabbage, green onions, fresh chopped parsley, chives, or fresh peas, when in season. Oddly enough, despite having seven years on him, it was always the job of my little brother to beat the potatoes in our house. I guess our heritage has a strange way of trickling down unnoticed like that.

Champ, like its sister dish Colcannon, has stood the test of time, and is so commonplace that it is even featured in this old Irish nursery rhyme.

There was an old woman who lived in a lamp
She had no room to beetle her champ.
She's up with her beetle and broke the lamp
And then she had room to beetle her champ

Often served in individual bowls, with a knob of butter melting in the center, Champ like Colcannon, is traditionally consumed by dragging the potatoes from the outside of the bowl into and through the well of melted butter. I'm telling you, as simple as it sounds, you gotta try that sometime. What sets Champ apart is the green onion infusion in the milk, and it really does impart the flavor into the potatoes, though sometimes parsley, chives and even fresh cooked peas are substituted. Champ is traditionally prepared for Halloween, where it is offered to the fairies, a dish of it being left out under a Hawthorne bush on Halloween night or All Soul's Day.

Next time that you buy one of those giant 15 pound bags of bargain potatoes, give Colcannon and Irish Champ a try. Can you ever really have enough mashed potato recipes anyway? Here's how to make them.

Recipe: Irish Champ Potatoes

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 30 min
Total time: 40 min
Yield: About 4 to 6 servings

  • 3 pounds baking potatoes (Russet, Idaho, Yukon Gold)
  • 2 whole green onions, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups of half and half or milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Scrub and place whole un-skinned potatoes in boiling salted water. While potatoes are cooking, bring the milk to a boil and add the sliced green onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to allow onion to infuse in the milk.

After about 15 minutes, pour off all but about 1/3 of the water from the potatoes, cover, reduce heat and steam potatoes over medium heat until completely cooked and tender. Test with a knife. Drain and set aside until you can handle and peel them, add to milk and onion mixture, mash and beat until fluffy.

Add 3 tablespoons of the butter and cook and stir over medium low heat until completely warmed through, transfer to a hot serving dish with the remaining pat of butter melting in the center. Can also spoon into individual bowls and top each with a pat of butter.

Variations: Substitute 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley or fresh chives to the milk, boiling for about 2 minutes only to retain the color. Can also mash about 1-1/2 cups of fully cooked peas in with the potatoes. Use leftover Champ to make Tater Cakes.

Can also be made ahead. Mix together (omit butter on top) and transfer to a buttered casserole dish; cover. To reheat, preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and bake covered for about 25 to 30 minutes; top with butter.


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©Deep South Dish
Adapted from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen
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Posted by on March 16, 2012
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