Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Champ," or, how to eat butter like an Irishman

Let me emphasize that you will want a glass of red wine or two with this little treat, in order to clear the arteries. Assuming it's true that red wine serves that purpose -- sometimes I think the claim sounds too patly magical to be real. Anyway a red wine would taste good, too. Please, no buttery chardonnays or crisp and kiwi-laced sauvignon blancs, or even noble sweet rieslings, with this one. You'll want to pick a big, strong, burly, dry cabernet, or a gentle, lush, and languid merlot.

Or perhaps a wallop of Irish whisky would be even more to the point. These potatoes seem, after all, to be all about comfort. 

The recipe for "Champ" comes from Barbara Haber's From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals. She credits, in turn, Darina Allen's The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking. 
If Ms. Allen delves into the etymology of the word "champ" in her book, Ms. Haber does not relay that information. Online variations similarly leave the word unexplained, just as online variations leave out the wonderful butter-browned onions at the end, which to my mind finish and perfect the whole dish.

Champ's ingredients are simple.

  • 8 baking potatoes
  • 1 bunch scallions, including most of green tops
  • 1 and 1/2 c milk
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 8 Tbs + butter
  • salt and pepper

Don't you love that promising "+" after the 8 Tbsp butter? Yes, why not have some more?

To begin, peel, quarter, and boil the potatoes. Both our professional cooks instruct us to boil the potatoes in their jackets, and then peel them, which method probably gives the potatoes more flavor, but is too inefficient for me. Especially on a pressed-for-time weeknight. I also took the liberty of adding a clove of garlic to the boiling water.

While you are merrily cooking the potatoes, put the diced scallions in a separate pan, cover them with the milk, bring to a boil, and simmer them 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the scallions steep while you proceed with the recipe.

Next, brown the diced onion in 2 to 3 Tbs of the butter.

As the onion is slowly browning, mash the potatoes with the scallions and milk. To this mixture, beat in 3 more Tbsp of the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now you will serve it forth. Pile a helping of potatoes into individual warmed bowls. Add a "knob" (such a good, honest, buttery word) of remaining butter to each bowl, and ladle on some of the deliciously browned onions.

Is this a side dish to a roast beef or chicken, or is it a meal in itself? You decide. Just be sure to pour that glass of ... well, whatever seems comforting.

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