Cook’s Corner: Go real Irish with colcannon, potatoes and cabbage

St. Patrick’s Day Colcannon

Though there are more people of Irish descent in the United States than in Ireland itself, the usual American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day with green beer and corned beef and cabbage has nothing to do with the Emerald Isle’s cuisine. If you’re going to celebrate Monday was they do in Ireland, think smoked salmon or grilled fat prawns or grass-fed beef, with a side of colcannon, a basket of brown soda bread and a pint of Harp or Guinness to wash it down.

Colcannon happens to be one of my favorite foods on the planet, probably because I associate it with many happy Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ home. The recipe here is from, a wonderful source of traditional and new Irish recipes from celebrated Irish chefs, cookbook authors, cooking teachers and home cooks, from Kerrygold Irish butter and the Irish Dairy Board. There are even videos teaching the proper method for making soda bread. Dubliner is a distinctive cheese with a flavor that’s a cross between cheddar and Parmesan. It’s readily available in larger supermarkets but can be omitted.

Reader response: cat head biscuits

J.D. was reading Nightwoods, a novel by Charles Frazier, when he came across the term cat head biscuits. “Made me wonder what that might be,” he said, and asked for more information and a recipe. Readers quickly let us know that, as Gwin Tate put it, “It’s not a particular recipe — it’s the size that gives them their name,” and recalled a business trip to Charleston where “at the Library Restaurant I had pimiento cheese cat head biscuits. Afterward, I was purring quite contentedly!”

“Cat head biscuits are large drop biscuits,” adds Mike Trachman of Fort Lauderdale. “They are considered home-style, rough and ready, rather than fancy biscuits. If you stretch your imagination, the golden-browned domed top and the size of the biscuit bear a resemblance to a cat's head. To make them, use your favorite buttermilk drop biscuit recipe, but make them 3 to 4 inches in diameter and back them, edges just touching, in a round pan. Usually one of these big biscuits per person is enough. If your recipe calls for about 2 cups of flour, you should yield about four biscuits. I make a half-recipe to feed two.”

Camilla McNeill of Miami says her grandma used to make cat heads, and “seriously, they were as big as a cat’s head. We ate them with honey and butter and a glass of buttermilk.”

Rickie B. writes that by pure coincidence he, too, was inspired by a literary reference to find a recipe for cat heads — he was reading Robert Parker’s Ironhorse when he stumbled on the term. “I didn’t find anything in my food dictionary, but when I Googled it I found a lot of recipes. Now I just have to work up the courage to try to make them.”

For historical reference, April Taylor suggested the website, where editor Lynne Olver credits an old cookbook with explaining that cat heads are Appalachian mountain food, giant biscuits often served with sawmill gravy. “The big difference between regular-size buttermilk biscuits and the cat heads was that with most cats the cook pinched off handfuls of dough rather than rolling it out and using a biscuit cutter.”

Thanks also to B.W.G. of Medina, Ohio, and Rosemary Houghton of Key Biscayne for providing recipes. The recipe here is from Ann Cronin, originally from Jonesborough, Tenn., who says it has been her family’s way of making the biscuits “for at least 4 generations.” She says a soft flour is a must and recommends White Lily but says in a pinch you can use 1 cup each of white flour and cake flour.

Reader request

Q: I’ve enjoyed your column and the help you’ve given me in my cooking. Please provide the recipe you printed, around 1975, for conch fritters. I remember it called for garlic. I will be looking patiently at Thursday’s papers for your reply.

Emma Allen,

Miami Gardens

A: That recipe predates me, as I’ve only been writing Cook’s Corner since April Fool’s Day, 1982, and there are no archives of recipes before that. However I do have a favorite recipe that has evolved from several I’ve published in Cook’s Corner over the years. The key is to use a seafood market that will run the conch through a tenderizer – a mechanical device that pounds and pinpricks the meat – so it is a lot less chewy. I also like to use a bottled mojo that has a good percentage of sour orange in it – make sure it is listed as the first ingredient.

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