Happy happy joy joy… it’s been far too long since I had a big portion of champ. This is my nod to St Patrick’s Day and Irish cuisine, and a firm family favourite when we were kids.
Champ, or brúitín in the Irish, is mashed potato with scallions and butter. Over the last decade or so I’ve seen increasing references to ‘champed mashed potato’ on menus (alongside colcannon mash, also delicious) and it’s nice to see such a homely favourite crop up in eating places. Back home it was just ‘champ’, but it was often a meal in itself, not just a side order. Indeed it became more a participatory sport than a meal in our household. Not bad for a humble plate of green-flecked mash…
The humble scallion
A proud mound of creamy, steaming champ would be served up on a plate, and we’d make a depression in the mound, like the caldera of a volcano. Into this would go a very generous pat of butter, which would turn molten with the heat surrounding it. A deep buttery reservoir of golden fat on the summit of a mash mountain, if you will. The challenge was then to eat the ‘walls’ of the mash, slicing off sections to make them walls ever thinner, without them being breached and releasing a trickle of liquid butter. One dipped the forkful (or spoonful) of mash into the butter to moisten each morsel. Needless to say as kids my sister and I loved this; “Don’t play with your food” was an adage willfully ignored for this particular meal…
Back then it’d have been no doubt made with Comber spuds: Comber’s the spiritual home of potato cultivation in Northern Ireland and some great varieties hail from this rich farming land south of Belfast. Tonight I made do with some King Edwards; peeled, pan boiled and passed them through a ricer before adding them back into the pan with a touch of butter and some warm milk. The heated milk had been suffused with scallions (or spring onion) and for some extra allium goodness I added some chives to the mix. For the perfect champ volcano I think the mixture needs to be a relatively thick mash, not too creamy, so the liquid butter adds a perfect silkiness to each mouthful.
Add the milk-blanched scallions and freshly chopped chives into the mash and give it a good stir around, keeping it nice and hot over a wide pan of hot water if you feel the need to be a perfectionist. Finish off with a touch of seasoning … I opted for a generous dose of coarsely ground black pepper… and it’s ready to be plated and eaten. Just add butter and imagination.
As we’d say back home, you’d be as thick as champ not to like this. This champ’s definitely a winner!