04 April 2011 – I Thought I Knew Corned Beef & Cabbage

I really thought I knew a thing or two about corned beef and cabbage. Mom would make it a few times a year. Growing up Mom was trying to feed a houseful of kids on a budget and if I recall correctly she often used the canned corned beef. Occasionally she would buy a corned beef brisket but mostly it was the canned variety. Either was fine with me and a corned beef and cabbage dinner was the only way I would willingly eat cabbage.

We have Irish roots and somewhere along the way I got it in my mind that CB&C was something akin to an Irish National Dish. After all if you ate it on St. Patrick’s Day … what else could it be?

Sunday afternoon I got a call from Mom and she said she had a corned beef brisket and if I wanted to come by and cook it that would be cool. I said I would come by on Monday to cook it up. This gave me a bit of time to research it as I had not had the dish in at least 15 years and have never made it myself.

You really have to love Google and the internet. There is so much information to be had. This is how I came upon the truth about CB&C.

First off – it is not nor has it ever been one of the national dishes of Ireland. In fact in yee olden days the Irish may have raised the British owned beef and corned it (wet cured in a spiced salt brine) and then shipped it off to England. The beef was far too expensive for the Irish and they made due with boiled bacon or ham cuts with cabbage.

As the Irish began to immigrate to America some found that they could buy corned beef brisket at reasonable prices from Jewish merchants and so CB&C became a common meal among Irish Americans.

Here is a good primer on corned beef if you are interested.  This is where I discovered that the canned ground up style of corned beef is called Bully Beef in England and was used to feed the troops back during WWII as well as me and my siblings during the late ’60’s to early ’80’s.

My mission this time out was to make CB&C from a pre-brine brisket cut. Buying a cured corned beef brisket can save you a considerable amount of time as it takes about 10 days to cure/brine one for yourself. I have read that buying a fresh brisket and curing it yourself is the very best way to end up with the best corned beef. If you are interested in how to go about it look at the second half of this recipe from Alton Brown from the Food Network.

So, here is how I made it tonight – first time out of the gate with this dish.

  • 2.5 to 3 pound corned (uncooked) brisket – including seasoning pouch
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 head cabbage (about 1.5 to 2 pounds)
  • about 4 or 5 new (red) potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • between 1 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt to taste (the corned beef is somewhat salty already)

Here are a few more things you will need later

Sides

Side Items

You will need an 8 quart pot. Add your salt, pepper, bay leaves and allspice to the pot with the brisket and add enough water to cover the beef with about two inches of water. Bring this to a boil and then lower the temperature to a steady simmer and cover and cook for about two and a half to three hours.

While the beef and spices simmer you will want to tend to the veggies.

Veggies

Onion, Celery, Potato and Carrot

Dice the onion, celery, and carrot and coarsely chop the potatoes.

Chopped Veggies

Chopped

Now for the cabbage

Cabbage

Cabbage

Cut the core from the cabbage and then slice in 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices

Sliced Cabbage

Sliced Cabbage

When the beef has simmered for around 2.5 hours you can check it for tenderness with a fork. If it is not yet tender you can continue simmering for another thirty minutes or so. When tender you will add the onion, carrots, celery and potatoes. This will drop the temperature so let it come back to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes.

Next you will add the cabbage and bring it back to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.

Cabbage on the Boil

Cabbage on the Boil

Don’t be alarmed – it will look like a ton of food but the cabbage will quickly wilt down.

It is all coming together now. When I dropped the cabbage in the pot my Mom prepared the corn bread using Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix – the very mix she has used since long before I was born. It is my favorite cornbread and has a slight sweetness to it.

This is the cast iron skillet she has made nearly every piece of cornbread I have been served since some time in the 1960’s.

CB Skillet

1940’s Era Cornbread Skillet

There are two ways to serve this dish. In a bowl or plated. There is a lot of flavorful broth in this recipe and the corn bread is the perfect tool to soak that up. I plated the dish and added a bit of the broth on the side just for the cornbread.

It turned out pretty good for the first attempt and I look forward to experimenting with it again. I garnished with mustard and horseradish because I like the kick and added some cinnamon apples on the side. Perhaps one day I will brine a brisket from scatch and take it to the next level.

Give it a try sometime. It is any easy dish and great for the colder days of winter. We are already getting into the 90’s temperature wise but a front passed through last night and knocked the temperature down just enough for this dish to warm the bones.

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Cornbread and Cinnimon Apples

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Cornbread and Cinnimon Apples