Ask Chef Phyllis:
My Irish-born “from the old country” grandmother never made corned beef and cabbage for St. Paddy’s day. Why, it wasn’t even any kind of beef at all. It was an inexpensive piece of pork (which she called pork butt) slowly cooked with Irish whiskey for hours and served with boiled potatoes and cabbage. I remember the aroma of cabbage—not unpleasant—filled every corner of her small kitchen long after the feast was done. This year I would like to duplicate this memory for my grandchildren. Can you help?
—Mary Catherine Tighe from Boston, MA
It’s too bad this glorious pork butt roast isn’t the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meat anymore. Back in the day, every butcher shop would display a mountain of smoked butts in their refrigerated showcase. Now the hams occupy that spot in supermarkets. And though I can see no reason you couldn’t use a ham in this recipe, in my opinion a shoulder roast has more flavorful meat and fat and fewer chemical treatments. It’s also less expensive. Pork shoulder or pork butt used to be sold bone-in or boned, smoked or fresh, with a thick slab of skin attached. It was often wrapped in a net bag, and you could get it for less than a dollar per pound. You may not be able to find it for that price anymore, but it’s worth a special order to make this lovely dish.
The Irish call this cut “bacon,” and for the usual Sunday or evening dinner they boil it with potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. But for St. Patrick’s Day and other special occasions, it’s served with colcannon—a mixture of mashed potatoes, thyme, sautéed leeks, onion, and cabbage.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Irish Pork Shoulder with Colcannon
In the following colcannon recipe from County Kerry, the potatoes, onions, and cabbage are lightly fried to create a crispy crust.
For the pork:
3½ lbs. boned pork shoulder (or 5 lbs. bone-in), fresh or smoked
3 tablespoons pork or bacon fat
3 large carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces (about 2½ cups)
1 large onion, quartered
1 head green cabbage, quartered
1 quart vegetable stock or water
1½ cups Irish whiskey (Hennessey or Jameson’s—no substitution)
Special equipment: a large Dutch oven or 5-quart pot with tight-fitting lid
For the Colcannon:
4 large Yukon gold potatoes, about 2½ lbs., peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes or 8 medium new red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons pork or bacon fat
1 large leek, rinsed well, drained, and sliced into ½-inch pieces
1 red onion, diced
½ head Savoy or green cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh, with leaves removed from the stem
1 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper (Chef’s Tip: if using smoked pork, omit the salt)
3 fresh thyme sprigs (garnish)
Prepare the pork:
- Remove pork shoulder from mesh bag or plastic wrapping. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat fat in the Dutch oven until it sizzles. Add pork and brown about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove to a platter.
- Add carrots, onion, and cabbage. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. Add stock and whiskey. Bring liquids to a boil.
- Place the pork back into the Dutch oven. Reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering (barely breaking a boil). Cover the pot and cook for about 2 hours over low heat. (Begin potatoes halfway through.) Test the meat with a large fork for doneness. If it doesn’t fall off the fork, cook for an additional half hour.
- Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 1 hour in a medium saucepan. Drain and cover. The potatoes will stay warm until you’re ready to make the Colcannon.
- Remove pork to the center of a serving platter, with carrots and cabbage to either side. Cover with foil to keep warm.
- Boil down the liquid in the Dutch oven until reduced by half for an Irish whiskey infused sauce.
Prepare the Colcannon:
- Add butter and pork or bacon fat to a large or 12-inch cast iron or other large skillet. Add leek, red onion, shredded cabbage, and thyme. Smooth out this mixture to a single layer if possible. Brown the bottom for at least 5 minutes. Add the drained potatoes. Sprinkle salt (if using) and pepper evenly over the mixture while mashing the potatoes slightly.
- Fry until the bottom is nicely browned, about 10 minutes. When crispy, turn and continue frying on the other side until nicely browned. If necessary, add no more than 2 tablespoons of liquid from the Dutch oven to meld the flavors.
To serve, slice the pork and arrange it on the center of the platter between the carrots and cabbage wedges. Spoon some of the whiskey sauce over the meat. Place the crispy Colcannon in a bowl and decorate with fresh thyme sprigs if desired. Pass around sliced Irish Soda bread and dollops of homemade raw-cream butter to soak up the whiskey sauce.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo from iStock/monkeybusinessimages
2 thoughts on “St. Patrick’s Day Feast: Irish Pork Shoulder with Colcannon”
My Irish born mother has never made corned beef and cabbage either. She would make a boiled dinner of a pork picnic shoulder or a Daisy Roll, savoy cabbage, turnips, carrots and of course spuds boiled in their jackets. Now in eastern Massachusetts you can get Irish style boiling bacon to make bacon and cabbage.
Thank you for sharing your mother’s tradition with us. Your comment reflected the many emails I received about this pork shoulder and cabbage dinner that was served for the Irish feast. So many people were excited to read what they called “the original’ recipe. When I was a young bride in New York, pork shoulder roasts were easily available, not so now. It is interesting that you can purchase the Irish boiling bacon in your neighborhood. The Southies in Boston are my husband’s extended family and they are happy to hear your news. Happy St. Patrick’s day to you and yours.