In all fairness, in writing this post, I have to point out that no one in our family is a big meat eater. Maybe it comes from having been vegetarian and vegan for so many years in the past. Along with a true concern for the startling conditions in which most commercial farm animals are raised. To be clear, we do eat meat, humanely raised, organic and hormone free, but certainly not very often. However, in the pursuit of wanting to learn more about all facets of Irish food culture, we decided that giving corned beef and cabbage a try at least once, was a necessity. That, and the fact that one of our favorite stores, Trader Joe’s, was sampling a version of corned beef on our last shopping trip, which is fully cooked, gluten and nitrite free, and actually really delicious and simple to make. So, we took a chance and tried it.
Even though I think everyone in this country associates corned beef and cabbage with everything typically Irish, and especially with St. Patrick’s day, it is, in all fairness, a recipe that was largely created by immigrants to America in the 19th century. In Ireland, by contrast, while corned beef might be eaten, something like boiled bacon and cabbage is a recipe much more common on and around St. Patrick’s day, even now. If you are interested in learning more, this brief video from the history channel, explains it. Suffice it to say, the recipe for corned beef began much like it is today, a beef brisket, which is generally a cheaper cut of meat, brined in a solution of water, salt, and spices. The name “corned beef” specifically, came from the coarse salt used, which was often the size of kernels of corn.
While you can make it yourself, brining the meat can take up to several days, so to save time, most simply buy the already prepared corned beef brisket, ready to be cooked, in the store. However, if you happen to be one of those intrepid hardy souls, wishing to try the entire recipe from scratch, this recipe will give you a rough idea how it is done. But be forewarned, the full curing time takes ten days! It also involves using salt peter, something which is not easy to find, not all that safe to eat, and was formerly used for drying ink! (Not entirely sure why you would want to consume something like that, but I guess it acts as a preservative?)
Anyway, as previously stated, the version of corned beef that we tried was already fully cooked, only requiring to be re-heated in the oven with a little bit of water, following package directions. If you are interested in trying it yourself for the upcoming St. Patrick’s day celebrations, or any other day, look for “Uncured Corned Beef Brisket, by Pocino” at your local Trader Joe’s. As stated earlier, it is nitrite free, gluten free, made up of the following ingredients: “Beef, Water, Vinegar, Sea Salt, Cherry Powder, Sodium Carbonate, Celery Powder, Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Flavors and Spices.”
We served our corned beef simply with cabbage, cored, thinly sliced, and steamed covered over low to medium heat with 1/2 tsp. of salt and 2 tsp. caraway seeds, and no more than 1/4 cup of water, until fork tender. Do not boil the cabbage right away, let it heat slowly until fully cooked.
It was really delicious, the meat was moist and tender, and full of flavor. Sample it this weekend, and let us know how you liked it.