Saint Patrick’s Day is tomorrow — a day when we celebrate all things Irish. As Wikipedia tells us:
Saint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It is named after Saint Patrick (c. AD 387–461), the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland. It originated as a Catholic holiday but is now celebrated by Protestants also. It became an official feast day in the early 17th century. Over time, Saint Patrick’s Day has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Irish culture….
Originally, the color associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the color green and its association with Saint Patrick’s day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century. He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. In the 1798 rebellion, in hopes of making a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase “the wearing of the green”, meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing, derives from a song of the same name.
As part of our preparations for our celebration tomorrow, I went to the store yesterday and picked up a lovely corned beef and head of cabbage. Here in the United States, corned beef and cabbage is a dish closely associated with the Irish in general and Saint Patrick’s Day in particular — although it is an easy meal that is tasty the year ’round.
Why corned beef and cabbage? Well, according to things I’ve heard on the Food Network and gathered through Googling 😉 , in Ireland, the traditional dish is made with cabbage and a lean pork bacon (along the lines of what we would call Canadian bacon here in the States). Irish immigrants coming to the U.S. in the early 1900s found that their more traditional lean bacon was either unavailable or too expensive, and thus fell upon using corned beef as an affordable, readily available substitute. One speculation I read posited that, given the proximity of immigrant Irish and immigrant Jewish neighborhoods, the Irish were, of course, influenced by Jewish foods, hence the incorporation of corned beef in place of the lean bacon. (By the way, corned beef and cabbage is also often referred to here in the States as a New England dinner.) Regardless of its origins, it is a tasty and easy meal to put together.
Corned beef brisket is proof that yes, there is a difference in the cut. There are two cuts of corned beef that I’m aware of: point cut and flat cut. Point cut is less expensive, but is higher in calories and fat. Flat cut, on the other hand, has almost half the calories and almost 2/3 less fat than point cut. I paid $1 more per pound for my flat cut brisket than for the point cut, but to me, the additional expense is well worth it. Also, the flat cut will shrink less during cooking than the point cut, so we will end up with a greater volume of cooked meat than we would with the same weight of point cut. Slow-cooking the corned beef will help ensure its tenderness, even though the flat cut is leaner.
Corned beef and cabbage is incredibly easy to make — you just want to allow plenty of time for it to cook slowly so that it will be tender. Remember, should it get done more quickly than you anticipated, you can just keep it warm or reheat it when you’re ready to eat.
The fine folks at Grobbel’s, who made the corned beef brisket I purchased yesterday, have a recipe and even a demonstration video at their web site (http://www.grobbel.com) — and they offer all sorts of other recipes and information on corned beef and such, as well. In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I’ll serve it along with some Irish soda bread — which will be the focus of my next post!
Corned Beef and Cabbage (Number of servings depend upon size of the brisket, amount of vegetables, and the heartiness of the appetites you’re feeding. Leftover brisket makes great sandwiches, hash, and other such delights.)
- Corned beef brisket (suggest flat cut, which is much leaner)
- Mix of vegetables of choice: e.g., onion, carrot, celery, potato, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga
- Head of green cabbage
- Remove brisket from packaging, preserving the seasoning packet and wee bit of juices inside the package. Trim brisket of any visible excess fat.
- Place brisket in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven (I usually use my electric skillet) and add enough water to surround, if not cover, the brisket. Add in seasoning packet and any of the juices from the packaging (I usually carefully rinse the packaging and use that water as part of the water for the brisket).
- Bring water to a boil or near boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
- Cover and simmer brisket, adding more water as necessary, for two to two and half hours.
- For the last hour or so of cooking, add in desired vegetables. I usually do some carrots (scraped and cut into fairly large pieces), onion (cut into quarters or eighths), and potatoes (I like to leave the skins on — more nutrition and flavor! — and so scrub them thoroughly, cut and/or prick them as necessary).
- Simmer until vegetables and roast are tender (about another hour or so).
- Once meat and vegetables are tender, remove to a platter and keep warm.
- Prepare cabbage: remove any tough outer leaves, wash/rinse cabbage, slice in half, remove the core, and chop or cut into quarters, eighths, or whatever you want to use. If you’re a cabbage novice, there’s a video here that demonstrates how to prepare a cabbage (it’s a red cabbage, not green, but the basics are the same): http://www.ehow.com/video_2261362_prepare-cook-cabbage.html
- Add cabbage to skillet or Dutch oven, increase heat to achieve a high simmer/low boil, cover, and cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes or so. Remove cabbage.
- If desired, thicken the remaining pan juices to make more of a gravy consistency, or leave pan juices as they are and serve au jus. Horseradish and/or spicy brown mustard also complement corned beef quite well.
This smells so yummy, you’ll be dancing an Irish jig! 🙂