St. Patrick’s Day isn’t far off, and whether you’re Irish or not, it’s a fair guess that you’ll be sitting down to a traditional meal of corned beef & cabbage, in homage to, or as a nostalgic reminder of, Irish heritage. But how traditional is corned beef and cabbage in Ireland? Ask any Irishman, and he’ll tell you that corned beef and cabbage is about as Irish as red beans and rice. Back home on the Emerald Isle, he’ll certainly have his boiled cabbage, but most likely it’ll be with a slice of good Irish bacon.
Serving corned beef on St. Pat’s Day is an American custom that goes back to the 1800s when Irish immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side learned from their Jewish neighbors that a cheaper cut of beef brisket could be “corned,” like pork, and served as a substitute for the more expensive cut of Irish bacon.
“Corning” or “salting” was a method for curing pork that developed in Europe in the early part of the 8th century. The term corning comes from the word corn, which originally meant grain. Coarse salt grains (or corns), which resembled grains of corn, were used in the curing process.
Ireland’s most famous feast day is little over a week away, and there’s ample time for you to get adventurous and “corn” your own beef. The color of your home-cured beef will be brownish-grey, rather than reddish-pink, but the flavor and texture will be memorable.
Choose a flat-cut brisket if you want your meat lean, or better yet, ask your butcher for a point-cut brisket. It’s fatter for sure, but infinitely more tender and tasty.
Home-cured Corned Beef Brisket
cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon cracked fresh black peppercorns
2 teaspoons mild “Hungarian” paprika
2 teaspoons ground allspice
tablespoon dried leaf thyme
2 each bay leaves, crushed
1 each “fresh” beef brisket, 4 to 5 pounds
Mix all of the seasonings with the salt in a small bowl.
Prick both sides of the brisket all over with a sharp fork.
Rub both sides of the brisket using all of the seasoning mix.
Place the brisket in a 2-gallon size zip-lock bag.
Squeeze out the air and seal the bag.
Place the brisket in a pan or large bowl and cover it with a plate or similar size pan.
Place a couple of large (unopened) cans or a brick on top to weight it down.
Refrigerate for 1 week, turning the brisket once each day.
Boiled Corned Beef Brisket
Rinse the brisket in cold tap water and place it in a large soup pot.
Add water to inch above the brisket and bring to a boil, skimming off the surface scum.
Immediately lower the heat, cover and “simmer” gently for about 2 to 3 hours, until a meat fork slides easily. in and out of the meat.
Remove the brisket to a large platter, moisten it with some of the cooking liquor, cover and keep warm.
Add potatoes and root vegetables, such as carrots, turnips and onions, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add quartered cabbage and simmer until tender.
Slice the brisket across the grain.
Serve all with melted butter, horseradish and mustard.