St Patrick’s Day, the one and only day of the year that everyone who isn’t Irish, pretends to be. But why? I don’t think that the Irish are a protected class and somehow have better lives than the rest of us, or that the “Luck of the Irish” is really extra lucky. So why is it we suddenly start to speak with a thick brogue, and feel compelled to eat corned beef and drink green beer? I guess maybe it’s simply because St.Patrick’s day is associated with fun, probably more fun than most any other special day, and maybe that turns all of us a bit “green”with envy.
Corned beef is actually not an Irish National dish, and it’s connection to St. Patrick’s day is specifically part of the Irish-American culture. Irish corned beef was considered primarily a trade item. During both the Irish Famine, and the Great Potato Famine, raising cattle for production of corned beef to sustain trade crowded out land that would have otherwise been used to raise crops to feed the local population.
The salted or corned brisket was widely used by British naval fleets and North American armies due to its non-perishable quality. Coastal cities in Ireland such as Dublin, Belfast, and Cork, created vast beef curing and packing industries to support the trade. The product was also desired by the French for use in Caribbean sugar plantations as sustenance for the colonist, the slave labor, and for the control of slave population.
There are many methods of cooking corned beef and cabbage. One way is to boil the meat in a pot with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots, however I find the end result to be a tough piece of meat with little flavor.
I prefer to purchase the brisket over the point cut. Adding no liquid, I place the meat in the crock pot on top of a bed of roughly chopped onions and cook covered on low for six to eight hours, depending on the size of the brisket. The combination of the water in the onion and the drippings from the beef create enough moisture to produce a tender piece of meat. Corned beef is very high in sodium so resist the temptation to add more salt. The fibers of the brisket tend to be long. Cutting the meat across the grain is important for best results.
Roasted potatoes and carrots add a nice flavor and texture to this meal. Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish and then turn the vegetables in the oil to evenly coat using your hands. Place the vegetables in a hot oven, 400º F for about an hour, stirring halfway through the cooking time to ensure even roasting. Sprinkle the potatoes and carrots with sea salt and pepper as they come out of the oven. Do not add salt before roasting, it will result in dry food! Salt forces the liquids out of meats and vegetables. Quarter and core the cabbage. Steam the cabbage in a colander placed over a pot of boiling water and covered with a lid.
I like to finish this dish with a parsley and white wine sauce. I make a thin béchamel sauce replacing half of the milk with white wine, and adding chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon. This sauce brings a light fresh contrast to the salty taste of the corned beef.
So get your green on and get out there, cause the pipes…… the pipes are calling.