Meat the Butcher: Corned BeefFebruary 27, 2012
We celebrate with beer, extra good luck, funny little men with green outfits and mouth-watering cuts of beef; could there be a better holiday? St. Patrick’s Day has many different meanings, some serious, some whimsical and some too inappropriate for this blog, but either way the day’s not complete without the classic meal of Corned Beef and Cabbage. So today we’re diving into what makes us drool over this buttery cut of beef that if done right, can truly melt in your mouth.
“Corning” is another name for curing and is one of the oldest and most effective methods of food preservation. Traditionally, corned beef was made by burying the meat in a mixture of salt and peat. The salt would draw out moisture in the meat and lower the pH. Both of these conditions make it very difficult for bacteria to live. The peat contains potassium nitrate which kills off any remaining bacteria. This “corning” allowed our ancestors to preserve meat during the fall and spring slaughters so they could have fresh food year round.
While modern day life is most certainly different than – say – 17th century Ireland, not much has changed when it comes to corned beef. We still preserve the meat with a mixture of salt and potassium nitrate. We also still boil the meat, much like they would have done many years ago and it is still incredibly delicious…
Corned beef comes from that workhorse of a muscle, the brisket. The brisket is located near the chest of the steer, above the legs. It is extremely tough and requires a serious dose of long, slow cooking to breakdown its connective tissue and make the meat flavorful and tender. There are two parts to the brisket, so make sure to order the right one when you visit your butcher.
- For a traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef you want the flat cut, or the brisket’s “flat”. This piece is extremely lean and uniform in size. It will give you nice, even slices for your family.
- The other cut of the brisket is called the point cut, or the “point”. It is considerably more tender but yields much less meat. The point cut is about a 50/50 meat to fat ratio. Use this cut if you will be smoking your brisket or shredding it for sandwiches. Everyone loves a good Reuben!
If you are one of those people that says,”I really want to like corned beef but it’s just too salty!” READ ON!
We are here to correct any common cooking mistakes to save you from “bad” corned beef that so many have had to experience throughout their life.
- Corned beef is salty but it doesn’t need to be. Soak your meat in a couple changes of clean water for a few hours before you cook and your beef will taste like beef (and not a box of salt).
- Brisket needs to be cooked “low and slow”. If your memory of Mom’s corned beef is like chewing into shoe leather, have no fear – we have a solution to that too! Cook your corned beef in water over a low simmer until you can pierce through the meat with a fork. If you’ve been cooking your piece of meat and it won’t get tender, you must be patient; it can sometimes take hours for your corned beef to be ready.
- For a traditional boiled dinner cook your corned beef first and then add your vegetables. Cook your corned beef until it is tender, then remove it from the pot and add your root vegetables (potato, parsnip, turnip, carrot, onion) and cook them until they are tender. Cabbage takes only a couple minutes to cook so add it last.
Classic Corned Beef and Cabbage
Total Time: 4 hours
1 medium onion, cut into wedges
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 lb. baby carrots
2 cups water
1 cup brown or alt style beer
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 whole mustard seeds
3 whole star anise
12 whole black pepper corns
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
½ tsp. pepper
1 (3 lb.) corned beef brisket, cut in half
1 small head cabbage, cut into wedges
Place the brisket in a 5-qt heavy bottomed pan. Combine water, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, sugar, vinegar, spices and pepper and pour this mixture over the brisket. Cover and cook until a fork can be easily inserted into the center of the corned beef, about 3 hours. Carefully remove brisket and put on a cutting board to cool. Add the water to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add all the vegetables and bring back up to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, about thirty minutes. Slice your corned beef across the grain into 1/4″ slices. Serve in a bowl with the broth and vegetables.
If you’re not into corned beef (even after our genius cooking tips and enticing photographs) we suggest celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with some Green Eggs and Ham!
….Or just stick with some steak tips and a few shamrocks for good measure.
Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!