Farm to Table: Irish-American Favorites
By Kayla Butts
By: Kayla & Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American favorite on St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s a tradition only in America, not in Ireland!
The Irish have a complicated history with corned beef. For centuries, English lords owned most of the land in Ireland. These lords fattened their cattle on the rich grasslands of their Irish estates. Irish peasants slaughtered the beeves and preserved them in barrels as corned beef to be shipped to England.
The Irish themselves, locked into generational cycles of poverty, watched English cows eat Irish grass, only to be butchered by Irish laborers for the rich landlords in England. The Irish came to resent the corned beef and cabbages grown from their land and labor for the benefit of those who kept them impoverished.
The Irish migrated to America in two great waves during the potato famines of the 1800s, and quickly rose to prosperity and power in the big cities of the East Coast. Wealth and privilege gave the Irish new opportunities and new appetites. They could now afford the corned beef and cabbage that, in the old country, had been reserved for the elites. With freedom, democracy, and capitalism, the Irish could finally eat like English kings.
Corned beef is salt-cured meat. The name comes from the large grains of salt, called “corns” by the English, used to cure the meat. Brining gives corned beef its unique flavor.
Corned beef curing recipes originally called for saltpeter or a similar nitrate. These nitrates, which give the beef a characteristic red color, help prevent botulism in the canned product. However, nitrates have been linked to cancer. You can make corned beef just as well with no nitrates, which gives the meat a browish color instead of a deep red.
If you hope to celebrate with corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, you must prepare in advance. Let your beef roast brine for a week or so prior to cooking to achieve that distinctive corned beef flavor. Use a sturdy brining bag. Place the bag of brine and roast in a pot (in case it leaks) in the fridge. Turn the bag every couple of days to redistribute the brine.
Cooking your corned beef and cabbage is a wonderfully simple one-pot preparation. Simmering the vegetables with the roast adds layers of succulent flavors. We paired this dish with a specialty brew called 1799 Stout by Lazy Beach Brewery in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American tradition, but this food is really about prosperity in a land of freedom. Here in The Bend, all of us, Irish or otherwise, are free to eat as well as any English king or queen!
Corned Beef & Cabbage
Serves 8 Prep time: 30 minutes
Inactive prep time: 7-10 days
Cook time: 4 hours, 15 minutes
1 cup kosher salt, plus 2 tsp
½ cup brown sugar
3 tbsp pickling spice (see recipe), divided
2 quarts water
5 lbs brisket, trimmed
1 bunch carrots, peeled and quartered
2 lbs fingerling potatoes, halved
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
Optional: stone ground mustard
1 tbsp black peppercorns (or 1 1/2 tsp ground pepper)
1 tbsp mustard seeds (or 1 1/2 tsp ground mustard)
7 dried chilis (or 1 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes)
6 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tsp coriander seeds (or ¾ ground coriander)
1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)
6 allspice berries (or 1/2 tsp ground allspice)
1 oz of fresh, peeled ginger (or ½ tsp ground ginger)
5 cardamom pods (or ¼ tsp ground cardamom)
3 whole cloves (or ¼ tsp ground cloves)
Heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add all whole ingredients to pan and toast, stirring, until fragrant, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and grind with a pestle for about 2 minutes, until coarsely ground. Alternately, if using ground spices, mix well in a small bowl.
3/4 cup sour cream
¼ cup prepared horseradish
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
Place salt, brown sugar, 2 tbsp pickling spice and water in a large pot over high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Place the brisket in a brining bag or 2-gallon zip-top bag and add the brine. Remove any air, seal the bag, and lay it flat inside a food-safe container. Store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days, turning the bag over every 2-3 days.
Remove from the refrigerator, drain, and rinse the brisket. Place the brisket in a large Dutch oven, with just enough water to cover it and 2 tsp salt. Add remaining pickling spice (about 1 tbsp) to cooking liquid and place over high heat. Once the water boils, decrease heat until simmering. Cook for 2 ½ hours. Add carrots and potatoes and cook an additional 40 minutes. Add cabbage and cook for a final 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, horseradish, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Serve corned beef with vegetables and a choice of mustard or horseradish cream sauce.