It would be safe to say no other food in the world is more closely associated with Ireland than the potato. By the 18th century, potatoes became a food staple in Ireland and the major crop grown there. By the 1840s, there were a half-million peasant farmers growing potatoes on small acreage. It is estimated that somewhere between a third to half of Ireland’s population was dependent on the potato for food. This large dependency on the success of the potato crop explains why the Great Potato Famine had such a heavy toll to the people of Ireland. An estimated 1 million deaths can be attributed to starvation and disease between 1845 and 1852. Unable to survive in their homeland, nearly 2 million Irish fled to the United States. Today it is estimated that are now more Irish descendants living in America than all of Ireland. The irony is that the potato blight that destroyed Ireland’s crop originated in America.
The origins of Champ are easy to trace from the fireside kitchens of simple farmhouses. It is a simple dish. In its purest form, Champ is intended to be eaten alone, served steaming hot in bowls with melted butter. When properly served, a well is created in the middle of the potato that is filled with melted golden butter. Each forkful of simple potato goodness is to be dipped into the butter, then drawn to the mouth where it is allowed to linger just a bit. Closing one’s eyes only elevates the experience to new heightened delights of oh my stars!
Champ is delicious all on its own, no doubt. It is equally delicious as a side to a good Irish Stew, a braised ham or steamed sausages.
Irish Champ Potatoes
2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and halved
1 cup milk
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 cup butter
1 pinch white pepper or to taste
8 Tablespoons Melted Butter for serving
Place potatoes into large pot, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
Drain well. Return to very low heat and allow the potatoes to dry out for a few minutes.
While potatoes are drying, heat the milk and green onions gently in a saucepan, until warm.
Rice or Mash the potatoes, salt and butter together until smooth. Stir in the milk and green onion until evenly mixed. Season with freshly ground pepper. Serve piping hot in bowls. Create a well in the center of each serving. Pass melted butter to fill the wells. Enjoy!