How can something so simple be so delicious!? This is a perfect description of Irish Champ. It seems that the name comes from an old Scots term meaning “mash” or “crush’. Champ has probably been around for centuries, at least since the 1700’s. Champ seems to be a bit more popular in the north of Ireland than in the south. The potato was introduced to Ireland in the 1700s and in 1845 the potato blight destroyed the entire potato crop in Ireland. The Great Famine is now only a part of Ireland’s history, and the potato is a source of pride and importance to most Irish. Perhaps I inherited this love of champ from my grandfather who grew up in Northern Ireland! A relative of champ is Colcannon, which takes its name from an Irish term meaning “white-headed kale” or cabbage. Both of these dishes include plenty of Irish butter and salt , along with milk or cream. Champ and Colcannon make a perfect partner for almost any kind or meat or poultry. When I attended the Ballymaloe Cooking School, the “champ primer” was to use a floury potato for both of these dishes. Ballymaloe grows a variety , such as British Queen, Kerr’s Pink and Golden Wonder, all of which are a floury potato. In the United States, the most famous floury potato is the russet commonly called the Idaho. Russets are a floury potato and are good for baking and mashing. Most Irish champ recipes recommend that you cook the potatoes in their “jacket”, so that the potato does not come apart while cooking.
Here is my recipe for Champ that I use at Chestnut Cottage
In a large saucepan cook the potatoes in boiling water for 30-40 minutes, or until tender. (in their jackets!) While the potatoes are cooking, simmer the scallions and 1 cup of milk in a saucepan until the scallions are tender. Strain them, reserving the milk as well as the scallions. Drain the potatoes well, then peel and mash with the 1 cup of strained milk . Stir in the scallions and butter and drizzle in the cream, continuing to mash, until the potatoes are fluffy. Season to taste with salt. I also add a bit of pepper.
Spoon the champ on to each serving plate, make a hollow in the center, and top with a pat of butter.
Another version of Champ that is a specialty in Northern Ireland is Pea Champ. Prepare the Champ as directed, substituting 1 ½ cups of shelled fresh peas for the scallions. Nothing is more delicious that fresh shelled peas!
One of my favorite Irish cook books is THE COUNTRY COOKING OF IRELAND by Colman Andrews.
Colman Andrews is an internationally acclaimed food and travel writer and this lovely book brings to life the people, the countryside, and the food of Ireland. Ireland is a country of artisanal bakers, farmers, cheesemakers, beautiful green fields and sea coasts rich with fish. Ireland is truly an island where farm-to-table dining has been the norm for centuries!
I love the incredible photography in this “delicious” cookbook and some of my favorite recipes are Chicken Soup, Whole Poached Salmon with Green Mayonnaise, Peas with Mint, and the Lemon Curd Tart! And there is so much interesting history in this book, like the page on The Famine. This is a book that I highly recommend if you have any interest in Ireland or the art of Irish cooking.