Saturday, March 10, 2012

Corned Beef and Cabbage: An Irish-American Tradition

For your Saint Patrick's Day celebration this year you are likely considering making corned beef and cabbage; an Irish tradition. Right?

Despite the popular belief in the USA that corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish dish, it was not previously and is not now popular in Ireland. As we found during our recent visit to the Emerald Isle, today the serving of corned beef is for tourists and the local Irish do not think of corned beef as a traditional food. In Ireland, the closest traditional dish is bacon and cabbage (more like Canadian-style bacon or ham.) Corned beef and cabbage became popular in the U.S. after Irish immigrants used corned beef instead of pork in the dish. The popularity of corned beef over bacon to the U.S. Irish was likely due to corned beef in their native land being considered a luxury export, but was inexpensive and readily available in America.

Julian having a coffee break near Kilkenny.

However, the appearance of corned beef in Irish cuisine can be traced as far back as the 12th century in the poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne (The Vision of MacConglinne.) Here it is described as a delicacy a king uses to purge himself of the "demon of gluttony." Cattle were only eaten when no longer able to provide milk or to work. The corned beef as described in this text was a rare dish, given the value of cattle as well as the expense of salt, and was unrelated to the corned beef industry which was yet to come.

Ireland was used as a major production center for beef when a colony of England, although most Irish during the 17th to mid-19th century did not regularly consume beef in either fresh or salted form. This was due to its prohibitive cost, the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British, and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported for English consumption as well as for use on British naval fleets. The majority of Irish that resided in Ireland at the time mainly consumed dairy, pork and seafood, as well as the infamous potato.

"The Celtic grazing lands of...Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries. The British colonized...the Irish, transforming much of their countryside into an extended grazing land to raise cattle for a hungry consumer market at home...The British taste for beef had a devastating impact on the impoverished and disenfranchised people of...Ireland. Pushed off the best pasture land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to the potato, a crop that could be grown abundantly in less favorable soil. Eventually, cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent on the potato for survival." —Jeremy Rifkin

Irleand's Rocky Countryside
Today's corned beef is termed as such because the 'corn' refers to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef. It is wet-cured in spiced brine and is more supple and tender because of this, and in modern times, is usually made from beef brisket. I prefer to purchase the Vienna Beef© brand of corned beef due to its high quality and consistency. Below I give you my preferred recipe, which includes desalination of the beef it water the roasting it with a mustard glaze. I include also my recipe for a nice sauce to serve with the prepared corned beef.

Julian's Corned Beef

Corned Beef and Cabbage, with Parsley Potatoes

• 1 piece of corned beef brisket (about 5 lbs)
• boiling water
• 1 head cabbage (Savoy if you prefer a more delicate flavor)
• 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
• 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
• 12 small red skinned potatoes
• 1 bunch of fresh (flat leaf) parsley
• 8 tablespoons Irish butter, softened at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

4 Hours Before Serving or More: If you have a good-quality corned beef brisket (such as those made by Vienna Beef), it can go into your roasting pan straight from the package. If not, you may need to wash the brisket and sprinkle with the pickling spices which may have been included in a separate packet. Place the brisket in a large roasting pan and cover the meat with boiling water. Cover and bake for two hours. Turn off the oven and allow to cool in cooking liquid inside the oven for an additional hour, then remove to your counter to continue cooling.

2 Hours Before Serving: Prepare a sauce for the corned beef

• 4 oz sour cream
• 1 Tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
• 1 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

Combine all these ingredients and refrigerate for two hours to permit the flavors to blend. Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about one hour, just before moving to the next step.

One Hour Before Serving: Prepare the red skin potatoes by scrubbing and removing eyes. Leave whole if possible. Cut larger potatoes into halves or wedges. Place in salted water until ready to boil. Boil potatoes until tender, during the last 45 minutes of cooking of the corned beef.

Drain cooked corned beef and return to roasting pan. Add one cup fresh water. (Note: If you prefer a less strong flavor, select a Savoy [curly] cabbage. If you prefer a robust flavor choose a traditional cabbage.) Cut the cabbage into small wedges without removing the core (to help keep it together while cooking) and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the cabbage around and on top of the beef. Bake covered at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place cabbage in an over safe dish with lid. Then combine the brown sugar and mustard in small bowl and spread on the corned beef. Cover the cabbage but leave the beef uncovered and return both to the oven for another 30 minutes to glaze the beef and finish cooking the cabbage.

Chop just the leaves of the fresh, washed parsley using most of the bunch. (More is generally better.)

Remove the meat and cabbage from the oven and let rest while you finish the potatoes.

Place the drained, cooked potatoes in the bowl while still piping hot and toss with good quality (Irish preferred) butter to coat the potatoes. Then add the chopped fresh parsley and gently toss until the parsley is evenly distributed, taking care not to break up the tender potatoes.

Slice the corned beef across the grain. Place 2-3 slices on each plate, along with a wedge of cabbage and 3 parsley potatoes. Place the sauce on the table and let each diner add to his serving of corned beef.

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