Saint Patrick’s Day: Corned Beef 5 Ways
BY STEVE NUBIE
Here’s how to make the best of this traditional meal on St. Patrick’s Day
Contrary to popular belief, corned beef is not the national dish of Ireland. It was popularized by Irish immigrants to the U.S. who couldn’t afford more expensive cuts of meat. Corned beef is essentially a tough cut of meat from the stomach and chest of a cow with layers of fat.
Brining the brisket in a salt-water solution helped to tenderize the meat. The “corned” description is derived from the size of the salt crystals which were roughly the size of a kernel of corn. It is best when slow cooked to breakdown the fat and collagen to tenderize the meat.
Corned beef brisket shows up as one of two essential cuts. The flat cut and the point cut. A typical brisket is a large slab of meat in a pyramid shape. The base of the pyramid results in flat cuts and the top of the pyramid results in point cuts.
Point cuts tend to be cheaper because they result in fewer uniform slices and tend to have less fat. While fat sounds undesirable, it flavors and tenderizes a brisket when it’s cooked properly. I’ve used both cuts and have no complaints about either, but I’ll favor the cheaper point cut if I’m making Rueben sandwiches or corned-beef hash.
We’re going to explore 5 approaches to corned beef:
- Rueben Sandwiches
- Corned beef hash
These recipes represent a cycle of corned beef cooking starting with the brisket as an entrée and then moving on to lunch with a Rueben sandwich, and finally landing at breakfast with corned beef hash. Usually around St. Patrick’s day corned beef brisket in on sale and I’ll stock up. This could make it easier for you if you want to have leftovers for the various recipes we’ll explore.
- Classic Corned Beef
This is the traditional, Irish-American boiled meal served on St. Patrick’s Day. The brisket is boiled in gently boilin water in a covered pot for 3 to 4 hours. Cabbage wedges, peeled red potatoes and carrots are often added to the pot for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The brisket is removed and the fat is trimmed and it’s sliced and served with the cabbage, potatoes and carrots on the side. If there’s a seasoning packet add it to the water when you first start to bring the brisket to a boil. Mustard and horseradish are often served on the side.
- Braised Corned Beef
This is essentially a pot-roast concept. You immerse the corned beef brisket in 2 cups of water in a large covered pot or Dutch-oven. You could also use a Crockpot. If braising in the oven, lay the brisket in the pot of water and then top with large slices of carrots, thick layers of cabbage and top with potatoes. You would follow the same pattern in a Crockpot. Set the oven to 375 and let the covered pot braise for 4 hours. In a Crockpot, set on high for 8 hours but don’t add the cabbage, potatoes or carrots until 6 hours later.
- Smoked Corned Beef
This is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a long time and a lot can go wrong. Here’s the directions if you want to give it a try: Adjust the air vents to medium and smoke for 1 to 2 hours. Once the charcoal is hot, add wood chips and place the par-boiled brisket on the grill over the water pan. Remove from water and place in a smoker or a kettle grill. If you use a kettle grill, use the indirect cooking method with the coals to one side and a foil pan filled with water on the other side under the grill. Boil a 5 to 6 pound brisket for 2 hours. Slice a piece to see if it’s done to your liking and then slice and serve.
- The Rueben sandwich
The Rueben is a traditional lunch after St. Patrick’s Day. It’s made with rye bread topped with slices of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and 1,000 Island Dressing. You can toast it in the oven or on a Panini grill if you like.
- Corned Beef Hash
If you’re lucky, and still have some corned beef left after the meal and the Rueben you can try your hand at corned beef hash. It’s essentially 2 cups of chopped, corned beef and 4 cups of diced potatoes. Boil the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes until they’re just tender and drain. You could also chop any leftover potatoes. Mix the corned beef with the potatoes in a bowl and then sauté in a pan with a tablespoon of butter. When done it’s customary to top it with a fried egg.
Happy St. Patty’s Day!