If you are American, it is likely that you associate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage dinners. For many Americans, this tradition is as associated with St. Patrick’s Day as green beer, leprechauns, and shamrocks. It may come as a shock to you that the Irish very rarely have corned beef and cabbage, much less on St. Patrick’s Day.
In Ireland, beef in general, nevermind corned beef, is rarely consumed. This is due to the fact that cattle were traditionally used to work the fields, and not for consumption. Only the wealthy could eat beef during these times, as cattle were only killed when they were too weak or too old to work the fields. Beef would be salted with the ash that resulted from burning seaweed and then preserved for the wealthy to consume during festivals. Pork was, and still is, the most commonly consumed meat in Ireland.
Coming to America
When Irish immigrants settled in America, they faced a lot of discrimination. In order to counteract tough prejudices, they settled together in large groups, mainly in New York City. However, even when faced with prejudice, the Irish were earning more money in America than they ever had under English rule in Ireland. This meant that they could afford beef for the first time, and the beef they choose ended up being corned beef.
In addition to a large number of Irish immigrants in New York City, there was a preexisting population of Jewish immigrants. Jewish immigrants, who had dietary requirements involving kosher foods, set up many of their own butcher shops. The Irish immigrants, therefore, were not buying the brined beef associated with their ancestors, but instead Jewish corned beef, made from brisket, which is considered kosher because it comes from the front half of the cow. Brisket, when not prepared correctly is tough and chewy, but when brined, as is corned beef, it becomes tender and flavorful.
The Irish and the Jewish actually have many cultural parallels. They had both emigrated to escape oppression at the cost of their sacred homeland. They were also severely discriminated against in the United States. The parallels between the Jewish and Irish culture can be seen in the literature written by Irish-American and Jewish-American writers. For example, the main character of Joyce’s “Ulysses,” was born to Irish and Jewish parents. These cultural parallels are likely to have led to this traditional recipe for corned beef and cabbage:
- Medium to large sized corned beef brisket
- Seasoning packet (should come with the corned beef)
- ½ tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt, to taste (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 pounds of red potatoes, halved
- 4 medium to large sized carrots, halved
- 1 onion, chopped in large dices
- 3 stalks of celery, roughly diced
- 1 green cabbage, cored and cut into 8 wedges
How To Make Your Corned Beef
- Fill a large pot with the brisket, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, the seasoning packet that came with your corned beef, a bay leaf, and 3 quarts of cold water.
- Put a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Turn the heat down to low and allow your mixture to simmer for 2 ½ hours.
- Taste the liquid from the pot. Add salt if necessary.
- Add potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. Cover the pot back up and simmer it for 30 minutes.
- Add the cabbage to the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are tender and cooked through, but not “mushy.”
- To slice the corned beef without shredding it, make sure to slice against the grain.
- To serve, put vegetables and a slice of corned beef in a bowl, and top with some of the cooking liquid. If desired, serve with brown mustard and bread.
This recipe can be changed to suit the tastes and needs of just about anyone. In essence, it is similar to making soup eaxcept that you use one large piece of meat instead of smaller chunks. Adding turnips or rutabaga will result in a deeper, more earthy flavor. If you are avoiding foods heavy in starches and carbs, parsnips make a good substitute for the potatoes. You can also swap sweet onions for yellow onions, or use small boiling onions.