Oddly enough, in four visits to Ireland that totalled almost three months spent in the country and as a guest in many homes, I was never served what has been called "the quintessential Irish potato dish" -- champ. In fact, I never had it until I watched the ever-fabulous Jamie Oliver prepare it (and he's English.) As John Thorne explains in the first above-linked article, there are many variations of champ (where greens and/or onion family vegetables) are infused into the hot milk used to make the mashed potatoes), but the one that's most traditional, done with scallions (green onions) was the one I tried. It's difficult for me to imagine making plain old mashed potatoes ever again (and I must confess, I'm sick to death of garlic mashed potatoes).
Peel the potatoes and dice into 1-1/2-2" cubes. Cook in boiling salted water for about 15-20 minutes, or until just tender enough to stick a fork through them. Drain and mash with a potato masher (a ricer is too fine for this; you want a little texture in your mash).
- 6 big Russet or 8 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes.
- 1-1/2 cups of milk.
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped.
- Lots of butter.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
While the spuds are boiling trim the roots from the scallions; thinly slice the white parts, then chop the green part in 1/4" slices. Combine them with the milk in a small saucepan, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes, then remove from heat to let infuse for a while.
Add the scallions and their infused milk to the potatoes and combine. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter and mix until the butter is melted and thoroughly mixed in. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
If you're serving the whole table from a big bowl, make an indentation in the middle and throw in what Jamie would call "a huge knob of butter", 3 or 4 tablespoons, and let it melt before serving. If you're dishing out individual servings, do the same but with less butter. (I suppose this step is optional, but boy is it good.)
When Jamie prepared the dish he added the tender leaves from the center of a bunch of celery, plus some watercress to the scallion-milk infusion. The other methods John describes include adding chives, parsley, peas, nettles, etc. Try 'em, see what you like. I love the scallion version, though. As the Irish would say, it's gorgeous!
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)