A long-simmered one-pot meal of corned beef cooked to perfection and served with tender cabbage, potatoes, and carrots would please any Irish-American on St. Patrick’s Day. Add some mustard or a creamy horseradish sauce, and you have a true celebration. (Step back from the green beer, people!)
WHAT IS CORNED BEEF?
Corned beef is most often a flat-cut brisket, but sometimes it’s made from beef round that has been cured with salt. Large grained rock salt, called “corns” of salt (one of several explanations why it’s called corned beef), was used when people began to preserve meat by salt-curing.
HOW DO I BUY CORNED BEEF?
The preferred cut of corned beef is a flat brisket. There are two kinds of prepared corned beef: with or without nitrates. In a clever but confusing marketing strategy, corned beef that has been cured without chemical nitrates (using celery juice, which, full disclosure, contains sodium nitrate) is often labeled ‘uncured,’ which is misleading.
If the label says corned beef, it is cured! That’s the bottom line. You can buy it cured with natural or chemical nitrates, but it is cooked in the same way regardless of the mind-boggling labeling.
Corned beef usually comes in a package filled with a liquid solution, which is the brine. Due to the curing salts used, the meat is slightly pink, and typically has a spice packet.
Instead of using the spice packet, I discard it and add my own mix of spices.
IS CORNED BEEF REALLY IRISH?
There is some of debate on this subject. As early as the 17th century in rural Ireland, a large loin of cured pork might simmer in a pot over the fire, and some cabbage would be thrown in to cook along with it. However, it would be safe to say that these days, Irish people rarely eat it for a festive meal, and the St. Patrick’s Day celebration itself is purely American.
One theory of its popularity in the United States is that Irish immigrants brought the memory of this dish with them to America. In fact, in Boston, where I live, we call it a New England Boiled Dinner, and it arrived on our shores along with the many Irish immigrants who settled here.
A hunk of meat and some cabbage thrown into a pot for hours doesn’t sound too appealing, but in this version, the meat simmers first, and then the vegetables are cooked in the broth after the meat is cooked, so they don’t become drab versions of themselves from overcooking in the pot!
I find this plain dish pleasurable and appealing; it’s worth making more than once a year.
SIMMER IT IN THE OVEN, NOT ON THE STOVETOP
Instead of boiling, the meat actually simmers gently in the oven, like pot roast. Bring it to a boil on top of the stove with some onions and spices—and then cook it, covered, low and slow in the oven.
The steady, low oven temperature allows the meat to cook evenly. Once it’s done, transfer the meat from the broth to a baking sheet or baking dish, and bake it for about 10 minutes in a hot oven to give the top a golden brown crust.
Let it rest before slicing, and while it is resting, cook the vegetables. The potatoes should go in first to get a head start, and the carrots and cabbage go in five minutes later, so that all the vegetables are tender at once.
HOW TO SERVE CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
Slice the meat across the grain and set it on a big platter. Surround it with the cabbage wedges, potatoes, and carrots. Pour a ladle or two of the broth over the platter; sprinkle parsley on top, and set the platter in the center of the table for diners to help themselves.
Serve with the mustard of your choice, and if you like, with a sour cream and horseradish sauce. In Ireland, corned beef might be served with parsley sauce, which is essentially a white sauce made with lots of chopped parsley. I riffed on that idea with sour cream, horseradish, and parsley for a quick, no-cook version.
MAKE-AHEAD CORNED BEEF
I usually make corned beef in two stages, just for convenience. I like getting a head start, so I am not rushing. Cook the meat on day one, then strain the cooking liquid, and refrigerate them separately until you are ready to put the meal together.
The meat is a breeze to slice evenly after it cools, and the fat of the refrigerated broth rises to the top and solidifies, so it is easy to remove. Here are the steps:
Day 1: Cook the meat. Strain the broth. Store them separately in the fridge overnight.
- Cook the corned beef in the oven in the broth.
- Remove the meat from the broth and brown it in the oven, as directed above.
- Store the cooked corned beef in the fridge in a container or on a platter, covered with a lid or foil.
- Strain the broth into a container. Store it in the fridge overnight.
Day 2 or 3: Slice and warm the meat in the oven while you cook the vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Remove and discard the fat from the refrigerated broth, and reheat the broth in a large pot.
- Slice the meat and place it in a shallow baking dish. Add about two ladles of broth; cover the dish with foil, and reheat it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until hot.
- Meanwhile, cook the vegetables as directed in the recipe.
- Assemble the platter and serve!
WAYS TO USE UP LEFTOVER CORNED BEEF
- Corned Beef Hash
- Reuben Sandwiches with Homemade Thousand Island!
- Hot Reuben Dip!
- Make an improvised soup—cut up the vegetables and add them to the leftover broth (if it’s not too salty). Otherwise, add them to beef or chicken stock. Add chunks of corned beef if there are any, or make an entirely new soup, adding chunks of cooked sausage, chicken, or other vegetables.