Meat / Recipes

In Which I Make Corned Beef

St. Louis cracks me up. Can I just say that you gotta a love a city where the residents jump on any chance to drink massive quantities of beer on the street. Saturday downtown was over-run with green-shirted drunks wandering into traffic for the St. Patrick’s day parade. Dr. Fiance and I spent some time wandering up the parade route, drinking a couple of beers and watching the party. What with all the drinking and green stuff around and peer pressure… ok fine. I’ll make corned beef and cabbage.

St. Louis Photographer Jonathan Gayman

My decade in New York City has spoiled me for things like pastrami and corned beef prepared at home or elsewhere. The great delis in the city serve up luxuriously delicious meats 24 hours a day in heart-attack inducing quantities so I never had a need to try to make my own. A giant sandwich with enough meat for several people? Awesome. Add in some pickles and some chopped liver? Heaven. This time of year though, I always feel like I should be having the Irish version of corned beef, along with some potatoes and cabbage. Not sure why I succumb to this pressure every time St. Patrick’s day rolls around seeing as my family doesn’t really have Irish in our blood. Most years I settle on just the cabbage and potato portion of the meal, pound a few Guiness and call it a day. This year, however, I decided to go the full nine yards and boil me some meat.

I’m going to be out of town on a shoot on the actual St. Patrick’s day, so I took the advantage of making my yearly Irish meal on Sunday. A couple of things you should know about this experiment before I go any further. First of all, I was not really sure exactly how this was supposed to taste and/or look. I’ve never braised a big ole chunk of meat like this, so I’m also unsure how to test the meat’s tenderness, other than to stick it with a fork. The second thing is that I decided to do this project on a Sunday, and since I didn’t want to drive anywhere, my meat options were limited. So I picked up my corned beef, pre-brined at the grocery store across the street. Cop out? Probably. Do I care? Not all that much.

Since my corned beef was pre-brined I simply threw it in the pot with some carrots and onions, covered it with cold water, then brought it to a slow boil. Obviously, if I’d started with a non-brined meat piece of meat I’d have had much more opportunity to add my own flavors. For example, you can control the amount of salt in the dish, and you can braise the beef in beer or apple juice instead of water. But when you pick up a pre-brined lump of corned beef at the grocery store St. Patrick’s Day display, the whole process was similar to opening a can of soup and heating it up. Granted, it took three and a half hours (50 minutes per pound) to cook, but still, I didn’t have to do a whole lot. I did, however, get a chance to use some of the herbs from my overgrown herb garden though – I added a bouquet garni of parsley and thyme along with a bay leaf.

St. Louis Photographer Jonathan Gayman

Lots of the Irish corned beef recipes call for cooking cabbage right in the broth with the meat, towards the end of the cooking process. Given the saltiness of the broth and the fact that Dr. Fiance and I like our veggies nice and crisp, I decided to go another direction with my cabbage. I shredded half a head of cabbage along with a couple of small onions and quickly sauteed them in a little olive oil until they just started to soften. Then I served the cabbage under the beef with some of the broth ladled on top. A couple of parsley potatoes on the side completed the dish.

After Action Report

My quick Irish dinner was pretty decent, all things considered, albiet very salty. It didn’t taste like the deli corned beef that I am used to, but it was a decent approximation. The texture was right, and my simple cabbage and onion saute was a nice accompaniment to the salty meat, as were the starchy potatoes. The leftover meat also makes very tasty sandwiches – not NYC deli sandwiches to be sure, but they’ll do.

Maybe next year I’ll try to plan my Irish meal a little more in advance and buy a decent cut of meat, do the brining for several days and really do it up right. Or, more likely, I’ll forget until the last minute and buy the same thing again. In any case, have a safe and happy St. Patrick’s day and be sure to drink your Guiness.

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