I'm not Irish, not even close. As a child, the arrival of Saint Patrick's Day meant they were serving Shamrock Shakes at McDonald's. It also was marked by painful bouts of school yard pinching if I had the great misfortune not to be wearing green.
Then came the glorious years in college where I discovered the joys of being an honorary Irishman, replete with green beer and lapel buttons that declared, "Kiss Me Today. I'm Irish." It was fun to have an excuse to wear green and drink in excess.
Corned beef wasn't originally a dish for the masses. Beef wasn't eaten because the cow and what it provided was too valuable. In addition, the salt needed was also very expensive and not something the common man could afford.
Cows were used for trade and barter and to provide milk and make little cows. Beef or corned beef was originally a meal of royalty, specifically as told in an epic 12th century poem––The Vision of MacConglinne––about a king who wanted to be cured of the "demon of gluttony." Which, considering the dish of which we are speaking, seems a bit of an absurdity. Can one truly ever get enough corned beef?
The traditional association of corned beef and cabbage being Irish fare didn't arise until the wave of Irish immigration to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. While corned beef was a product of the British industrial revolution (the concept of salted, cured and packaged beef for export), it really isn't considered traditional Irish fare in Ireland (though they happily sell it to tourists), and beef wasn't a large part of the Irish diet until the 1900s.
The term "corned beef" comes from the practice of placing cuts of beef into a vessel, covering liberally with large granules of rock salt called "corns," thus preserving the meat.
A quick trip to the market doesn't uncover any corns of salt, but (thankfully) there is no need to salt cure your own beef. Just about any local market will sell a pre-packaged, pre-season cut of brisket (which come with spice packets) designed to be popped in the pot and turned into a tasty meal.
While traditionalists might cringe at the thought of cooking a pre-marinated cut of beef, I find it far easier to prepare than hunting for the litany of spices needed for your own homemade marinade. After all, how many people actually have all-spice berries or juniper berries in their pantry or the time necessary for the meat to properly brine? Corned beef is surprisingly easy to prepare. Add a few of your favorite colorful vegetables and you will have a meal that is truly fit for a king.
Note: you can vary the amount of vegetables to your liking or to accommodate the size of your pot.
- 1 2.5–5 pound brisket cut of beef—flat or point–pre-seasoned (and with spice packet).
- 1 head green cabbage, cut into wedges
- 4 large carrots–peeled and chunked
- 1 1/4 pound baby potatoes (I like to mix it up with red, yellow and purple potatoes from Trader Joe's for extra color).
Place the beef into a deep pot or Dutch oven and cover with water. Add the spice packet and cover pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Scoop off the froth that rises early in the cooking process. Simmer for approximately 50 minutes per pound or until it's fork tender. When there is about 45 minutes left on your cook time add chunks of carrot and baby potatoes. When there is about 15 minutes left, add some cabbage wedges.
When the corned beef is cooked through, take it out of the pot and it let cool for 20–30 minutes. Slice the meat across the grain and serve it with the colorful vegetables.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh (Happy St. Patrick's Day)!