Corned beef and cabbage (better known as bubble and squeak) is as much a St. Patrick’s Day tradition as is green beer, in part because the fasting of Lent is lifted on March 17, the day that marks the death of the patron saint of Ireland.
“Corned beef and cabbage - that's our favorite holiday meal when all the O’Haras gather around the table,” said Tony Award-winning actress Kelli O’Hara, who appeared as Mrs. Darling in the NBC production of “Peter Pan Live.”
According to legend, St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to share the story of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which also explains why the color green is such a common theme for St. Paddy’s Day celebrations.
And while there is nothing green about corned beef, you might be a bit green as a chef when it comes to preparing it, since this traditional Irish dish is available already corned at your grocery store.
(For those wondering about the origins of the term “corned beef,” is comes from the old British name for grain, as in grain of salt. A single grain of salt was once a corn of salt, and corned beef is actually salted beef.)
And for salted beef, we need to make a spiced brine that will serve as a marinade that your brisket will rest in as it cures or pickles.
The process is not easy – you’ll need to get started by March 6 if you want to serve your corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, earlier if you need to track down sodium nitrite – but the old-world process is one that is ultimately worth it, because it will taste soooo much better than anything you might buy at the store. Plus, there’s a special satisfaction in pulling something out of the oven that you’ve labored over to serve to loved ones, especially when they groan with pleasure at first bite.
Here’s to a happy – and delicious – St. Patrick’s Day!
Corned beef and cabbage
- 2 quarts water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons sodium nitrite (Order this online or check with your local butcher. It preserves the pink color that is essential to corned beef.)
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
- 1 star anise pod
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 12 whole juniper berries
- 8 whole allspice berries
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 pounds ice
- 1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed
- 1 small head cabbage, cut into wedges
- 3 large carrots, cut into chunks
- 2 small onions, quartered
Make the brine: Fill a large stock pot with the water, salt, sugar, sodium nitrite, cinnamon stick, star anise pod, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries and bay leaves. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice, stirring until all the ice is melted.
Once the brine has cooled to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, place the brisket in a two-gallon zippered plastic bag and cover the meat with the spiced brine. Seal the bag securely and lay it flat in a plastic container with a cover. Place the brisket in the refrigerator for 10 days, checking it daily to make sure that the brisket remains submerged in the brine. Give the back a shake when you check on the brisket to keep the spices mixed.
After 10 days, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse it will under cool running water.
Make the corned beef and cabbage: Place the brisket in a stock pot and add the cabbage, onion and carrots, covering the meat and vegetables with water until the water level is about an inch above your veggies. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for about three hours, until the meat and vegetables are tender.