St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, means it’s almost time to put on your best green suit, set up a leprechaun trap and cook up a festive Irish meal.
The holiday celebrates Ireland’s patron saint, who, incidentally, wasn’t even Irish. Saint Patrick was born in Britain, captured by Irish raiders and held for six years before escaping. He eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary and became a symbol for a blend of traditional Irish culture and Christianity.
But what about the lore behind other St. Patrick’s Day symbols? Here’s a look at how beef became a supposed Irish classic.
What is corned beef?
The corned beef is brisket, which means it has been preserved in a salty brine. It’s similar to pastrami, which is also a cured brisket, but the corned beef is boiled while the pastrami is smoked.
Corned beef gets its prime on St. Patrick’s Day as a “traditional” Irish food. Like St. Patrick himself, however, beef isn’t technically Irish.
According to the History Channel, Irish immigrants to New York City learned about mincemeat from their Jewish neighbors and adopted it in place of Irish ham, an expensive but traditional food. Cabbage was added to the meal because it was plentiful, cheap, and enhanced the stew with other vegetables. The meal gained popularity in the New York bar scene because it was offered as a “free lunch” to Irish construction workers if they bought beers or glasses of whiskey.
“I don’t know anyone who serves beef in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day,” Myrtle Allen, the celebrity Irish cook often credited with “revolutionizing Irish food,” told the Washington Post in 1996. more Irish than roast chicken,” she said.
The British Empire widely imported corned beef from Ireland from the 17th to 19th centuries, when County Cork was known as the “corned beef capital” according to The Irish Times.
However, a more typical Irish holiday meal would be a thick slab of Irish ham or some other type of pork with mashed potatoes and vegetables served with a white sauce.
Why is it called corn beef?
The “meat” of ground beef has nothing to do with yellow vegetables. Instead, it comes from the large salt crystals used to preserve beef, which are sometimes called “kernels.”
How to cook beef and cabbage
The Food Network recommends making your own brine with water, pickling spices (mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes), sugar, kosher salt, and pink salt. Pink curing salt is common sodium nitrate table salt and is used to preserve meat.
Bring the brine mixture to a boil and boil it until the sugar dissolves and let it cool. Pour the mixture into a piping bag and seal as tightly as possible. Refrigerate for five to seven days, turning every other day.
The meat can be cooked in a cast iron dutch oven on low.
You can also save a few steps by making it in a pressure cooker. Buy a pre-prepared beef brisket and rub it with brown sugar. Place on a wire rack in your Instant Pot with garlic cloves and 1 ½ cans of beer and pressure cook for 90 minutes.
When it’s done, add your vegetables – carrots, cabbage, onions and potatoes – and the rest of the beer to the remaining stock and pressure cook for 5 minutes.
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