Cooks use different combinations of vegetables, some including turnip, onions and parsnips, and others limit the mix to potatoes, carrots and cabbage
Let me preface this by saying that I am not Irish. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, though, I have been thinking about Irish food.
Often Canadians, inspired by the association of the colour green with all things Irish, tint foods and drink green for St. Patrick’s Day. Probably before that custom took hold, North Americans would often celebrate March 17 with a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, a meal enjoyed by Irish transplanted in the New World.
meal has come to be named a Jiggs Dinner, likely a popular culture reference. Corned beef and cabbage was the favourite meal of Jiggs, the main character in a long-running comic strip called “Bringing up Father”.
Jiggs Dinner is just right for late winter meals, as it’s made with cured meat and local vegetables that last through the cold months. Cooks use different combinations of vegetables, some including turnip, onions and parsnips, and others limiting the mix to potatoes, carrots and cabbage.
Apparently, the term “corned” beef derives from the English use of the word corn to mean a small particle; in the case of corned beef, the small particles are of salt. Various types of sodium and potassium salts have been used to prevent spoilage in meats, both as dry rubs and in brine solutions.
Corned beef is beef – usually from the brisket (breast or lower chest), ribs or rump (outside round)– that’s been boned, trimmed, seasoned and cured in brine. In earlier days, families might keep it stored in barrels. Marie Nightingale includes a recipe entitled “To Corn a Beef” in her classic “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” (Nimbus, Halifax, 1989).
Corned beef may be red in colour, like the thin-sliced deli-style corned beef used for sandwiches, when made with sodium or potassium nitrate/nitrite salts, or grey when cured in a brine of water, salt, and sugar.
According to my reading, when cooking grey corned beef or salt beef, you need to reduce the salty flavour by soaking in clear water overnight, or covering in water, heating, and then discarding the cooking water after the first boil, before covering with fresh water and simmering for 3 to 4 hours until tender.
Modern appliances have resulted in updated ways to cook corned beef and cabbage. Here is one for the slow cooker. Because of the way vegetables cook in a slow cooker, the potatoes, carrots and onion are snuggled under the meat at the bottom of the crock in this recipe.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Adapted from Hensberger, Beth and Julie Kaufmann: “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook”. The Harvard Common Press, Boston, 2005.
Use a medium or large round or oval slow cooker
6 medium-size red potatoes, quartered
4 medium-size carrots, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) chunks on the
1 medium-size yellow onion, cut into 6 wedges
1.5-2 kg (3-4 lb) corned beef brisket, rinsed
2 bay leaves
8 allspice berries
2 mL (½ tsp) black peppercorns
2 mL (½ tsp) mustard seeds
10 mL (2 tsp) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 355 mL (12 oz) can beer, strong or mild flavoured
1 medium-size head cabbage, cut in 8 wedges, each secured with
kitchen twine so it doesn’t fall apart in the cooker
125 mL (½ cup) Dijon mustard for serving
Put the potatoes, carrots, and onion in the slow cooker. Lay the corned beef on top of the vegetables, and add the bay leaves, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and brown sugar. If the meat is too big to lie flat in the cooker, cut it in half and stack the pieces one atop the other. Add the beer and enough water to just cover the brisket. Cover and cook on LOW for 9 to 11 hours.
Remove the corned beef and place in a serving casserole. Arrange the vegetables around the beef; cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Put the cabbage in the cooker with the cooking liquid and turn the setting to HIGH. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve the beef, sliced across the grain, with the mustard, vegetables, and cabbage. Pass the juices from the crock in a bowl.
Makes 8 servings
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.