I read somewhere that Corned Beef was adopted by Irish immigrants who landed in New York and couldn’t find the cured pork bacon they remembered from back home, so they cured beef instead. That theory is kind of ridiculous, given that cured and smoked pork was prevalent amongst the new Americans of European descent, particularly from Poland or Hungary. On top of that, Ireland has a rich history of corning beef, going back to the 1600s. Surely there were pigs available in the 19th century in New York, but for whatever reason cured Irish bacon (cut from the loin) never gained popularity. Corned beef, on the other hand, was hugely popular, and to this day is thought of the national food of Ireland. Declaring that to an Irish person will probably earn you a swift kick in the nuts, but hey, we’re from the land of cultural appropriation and what we say goes! Also, corned beef is delicious, especially when prepared in the following manner, surrounded by good friends and family, pints upon pints, and a tin whistle or two.
If you want to corn the beef yourself, here is an easy recipe. If you buy the beef already corned, skip over this part and go straight to cooking the corned beef.
To corn the beef (seven days in advance):
4-5 lbs beef brisket, flat cut end, or outside flat
4 L water
300 gr salt
110 gr sugar
45 gr curing salt with nitrites
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp pickling spice mix*
*you can buy this premixed, but if you want to make it at home in a small quantity, pickling spice mix includes 2 tbsp mustard seed, 1 tbsp whole allspice, 2 tsp coriander seed, 2 pc clove, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp chili flakes, 2 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick
Bring the water to a boil, and add all the ingredients. Whisk to dissolve the salt and sugar and take off the heat. Cool the brine until it’s room temperature. Place the brisket in a non-reactive (glass, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel) container and cover with the brine. Put a small plate on the brisket to weigh it down and keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for seven days, checking periodically to make sure the brisket is submerged in the brine. After a week remove the brisket and soak it in cold water for about one hour to rinse off the excess salt.
To cook the corned beef:
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stack, diced
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp pickling spice (same mix as above)
1 tsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Place the corned beef in a pot large enough to hold it. Cover with cold water and add the vegetables and the spices. Do not add salt. Bring the beef to a gentle bubble over a medium low heat, cover, and allow to slowly simmer for about four hours, or until the meat yields itself to the prick of a fork.
Slice the beef and serve hot, accompanied with Parsley Sauce and a good amount of vegetables.
1 cup whole milk
¼ onion, sliced
3 pc cloves
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup hot braising liquid from the corned beef
2 tsp English mustard powder
1 cup English (curly) parsley, washed and chopped finely
In a pot over a medium heat, cook the milk with the onion, clove and bay leaves. When the milk begins to simmer, remove it from the heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes to infuse the milk.
In a pot over a medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir vigorously to blend. Allow the roux to cook for about five minutes, or just until it begins to get golden. Strain the milk and add it to the roux bit by bit, whisking to ensure emulsification. When the milk is completely mixed, add the hot braising liquid and whisk. Add the mustard powder and finally the parsley. Simmer for about ten minutes before blitzing the sauce in either a blender or using and immersion blender. The sauce should be a lovely green hue. Serve in a sauce boat with the corned beef.
Bacon Braised Cabbage
Now I normally cook cabbage by slicing it all and braising with whichever aromatics I’m feeling positive about that day, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve been intrigued by roasting of whole vegetables, so I figured I would try that with a whole head of cabbage. It works really well, and looks really nice served as a wedge on a plate as well, dripping with a spoonful of the porky braising juices.
1 head of cabbage, preferably Savoy but white cabbage works as well
1 large onion, sliced
1 lb bacon, sliced into lardons
In a large stock pot, sweat the onions and the bacon together over a medium heat. You don’t need any oil, as the bacon lets off enough cooking fat. As that is going, trim off the outer dirty leaves of the cabbage, and using a paring knife dig out the core as best you can. This is a little tricky, and you could stab yourself if you’re not careful, so be careful. When the bacon has released some of its fat and the onions are beginning to turn slightly golden, use a spoon and form a small well in the center. Place the cabbage, core side down, into the well. Turn the heat down low and cover the pot. Cook for a total of 3 hours, or until a paring knife easily slides through the body of the cabbage.
The cabbage should release enough moisture to slowly steam itself, as well as any moisture from the onion. About halfway through cooking, add a cup or two of hot water to help the steaming process. When the cabbage is cooked, remove the lid and let it cool for 20 minutes or so. Carefully remove the cabbage, cut it in half, then cut each half into 8 or so wedges. Serve on a platter with the bacon and onion mixture drizzled all over.
Mashed potatoes are just the best, aren’t they? I’ve made many variations on the mashed potato theme over the years and this traditional Irish version works really well with the rich corned beef and cabbage. It also has a cool name.
4 medium potatoes, Yukon golds work well here
3 cups dark leafy greens (such as kale, swiss chard, or spinach), washed and chopped
1 cup milk
3 tbsp green onion, chopped
3 tbsp butter
Place the potatoes in a sauce pot and fill halfway with water. Cover and cook over a high heat until the water boils. Carefully remove half of the water, turn the heat to very low, return the pot to the stove and cover. Steam the potatoes for about 45 minutes. Remove the potatoes form the pot and when they’re cool to the touch, peel them. Place back in the pot.
Meanwhile, cook the greens in one tbsp. of the butter. Cook until they are quite wilted, about 10-15 minutes for mature leaves. If you are using baby greens or spinach they will only take a couple of minutes. Season with salt and add to the potatoes.
Heat the milk and the remainder of the butter with the green onions. When it comes to a simmer pour over the potatoes and greens and mash everything with a potato masher. The mix should still be slightly lumpy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Molasses Glazed Carrots
I used to glaze carrots with sugar all the time, but I find using molasses gives the vegetables a nice depth of flavour as well as sweetness. Plus, there’s a lot of butter so that can’t be bad! I like to use the bunched carrots for a side dish, which I find have more flavour than the big horse carrots which are good for stocks, sauces, and soups.
1 bunch of carrots, trimmed and peeled (about 8 carrots)
1 tsp molasses
2 tbsp butter
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
Place all ingredients in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and take the lid off. Stir the carrots occasionally and reduce the water until it’s all evaporated. The carrots should be very shiny and slightly dark from the molasses. Serve immediately.