I read that corned beef and cabbage was the traditional dinner served in Ireland on Easter Sunday long ago. It was the first meat that the Irish would eat after fasting for Lent. I also read that corned beef was more of a delicacy served to kings and was not really available to the commoners and that the traditional Irish boiled corned beef and cabbage dinner is more popular in America than it is in Ireland.
Since the invention of refrigeration, fresh meat is the dinner of choice on Easter and not meat that has been cured in salt for the winter to keep it from going bad. Corned refers to the salt that was used to cure the meat. It was a salt that had some crystals the size of corn kernels and the name stuck. The cut of meat used is the full brisket. This is from the front of the cow near the top of the leg. Usually in the store, only the top piece of the brisket is available, but for corned beef you want to use the full piece of meat. The top and bottom portions of the brisket are separated by a heavy layer of fat that will lend moisture to the finished beef.
Because this cut of meat can be tough, it is a good idea to cook it for a long time to allow the fibers to break down and create a tender meat dish. A typical corned beef is soaked in a brine of salt water for at least a week. Some people will add pickling spices to this brine while others will add the pickling spices to it when it’s cooking.
Boiling is the most common way to cook a corned beef, but brazing doesn’t involve much work and will give you a better finished product.
Once the meat has been cured, it is usually placed in a crock pot or pot and covered with water and then boiled for a long time. Whether you cure your own brisket or not, this is an easy dinner to prepare. If you cook it the most common way, all you have to do is put it in a pot, cover it with water, bring the water to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer. It takes a long time to cook, but the work is negligible.
Boiling is the most common way to cook a corned beef, but brazing doesn’t involve much work and will give you a better finished product. Leave a good amount of the top fat cap on and season the meat generously with salt, pepper and garlic. Get a roasting pan hot and add just a little oil to sear the meat, fat side down first.
Once that side is golden brown, turn it over and sear the bottom. Remove the meat from the pan and drain some of the oil and fat from the pan. Season the meat with a liberal amount of pickling spices and place it back in the pan. Add enough water to cover only half of the brisket and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bring the water to a boil and put it in the oven to bake at 225 to 250 degrees for 4 to 8 hours until it is tender, depending on the size of the meat.
Add root vegetables about 30 minutes before the meat is done. The normal veggies used for this meal include carrots, turnip, potatoes and cabbage. You can serve the meal with mustard or a simple horseradish sauce. This St. Patrick’s Day, try brazing instead of boiling and enjoy your corned beef and cabbage dinner.
One corned beef brisket
3 to 4 T pickling spices
Salt, garlic and pepper
2 T oil
8 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 turnips cut into -inch pieces
1 or 2 white cabbages cut into wedges
1 C whipping cream
1 T horseradish or to taste
Season the brisket liberally with salt, pepper and garlic. Get a roasting pan hot and add the oil and sear the fat side first of the meat and then turn it and sear the bottom. Remove the meat from the pan and drain the oil and fat. Season the meat with the pickling spices and replace it in the pan.
Cover about halfway over the meat with water, bring to a boil, cover tightly with foil and place it in a 225 to 250 degree oven until tender (about 5 to 8 hours). Add veggies when there is 30 minutes left.
A roasting fork should stick in and then pull out of the brisket easily when done. Serve with mustard or whip a little cream and add some horseradish, salt and pepper to taste.
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Smitty’s column, visit chefsmitty.com or TheTahoeWeekly.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 412-3598.