If we were to play a word association game, where you would say the first dish that comes to your mind when I say ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, what would your answer be? I’d wager a pot of gold it would be Corned Beef and Cabbage. You would not be alone as most Americans consider it the Irish fare to serve on March 17.
This simple dish is steeped in a bit of debate about the authenticity of origin. Did it truly originate in Ireland? Did Irish immigrants to the U.S. recreate a favorite native dish (originally made with bacon) using corned beef instead? We will never know. However it is served in Ireland on special occasions.
My husband is of Irish roots and like me has traveled much to the Emerald Isle. When we got together we were working long hours in high tech and past the point of spending hours in a pub on a week night to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day (as well as often in American pubs the green beer and strobe light shamrock eyeglasses have overtaken the authenticity of the holiday). Instead we’d settle in with a six pack of Guinness, a DVD of ‘The Commitments’ and make Corned Beef. At the time we’d pick up the pre-brined brisket that comes with the seasoning packet that is simply dumped in a crock pot or stock pot to boil away with some onions and carrots yielding a salty piece of meat for dinner and leftover sandwiches.
For such a simple and classic dish it seemed obvious sharing a recipe here in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day would be the right thing to do. After I looked through family recipes, some favorite Irish cookbooks, and speaking at length with butchers at a few of my favorite local markets, I realized one has a decision to make when approaching this dish, and everyone’s approach is a bit different.
Corned beef is actually a brined brisket. Much as one does with their Thanksgiving turkey (albeit for turkey it’s a much shorter duration of brining), the brisket is placed in a brining mixture of salt and water, and sometimes seasonings depending on the recipe being used. The process of brining can take from 5 days to a few weeks and requires changing of the mixture and chilling to ensure the brisket is prepared as well as safe to eat in the end.
After the meat is brined, it is cooked with pickling seasoning and simple vegetables preferably over a number of hours to keep the meat supple and well flavored. There are variations and personal preferences all along the path. Some recommend soaking the brined brisket over night to release excess salt before cooking. Some add vegetables at the beginning which cook for hours. Regardless of how it’s done it is a delicious ode to the holiday and the Irish.
For my recipe I wanted to keep the brisket succulent with a long cook as well as add something most gluten-free diners rarely experience; meat cooked in beer. The beer acts to provide another level of flavor along with the seasonings and vegetables. I also like cooked but not mushy vegetables so I used two sets of vegetables. The first is purely to add flavor to the broth when cooking and provide a bed for the brisket so it would not burn by being directly on the bottom of the slow cooker. A second set intended for the meal are added a few hours before the meat is done, leaving them cooked perfectly to round out the meal. I personally am not a fan of cooked cabbage but did include the directions to ensure that too will come out great!
The method I’m sharing is simple however requires about 24 hours as the corned beef is first soaked overnight to release excess salt. It then cooks for 10 hours in a slow cooker and is it ever worth the wait!