Sunday, March 18, 2012

The New St. Paddy Tradition

The day of and following St. Paddy’s had greener than green flora and overcast skies. There was leftover corned beef and cabbage from Friday (we started early this year), and a trial run of gluten free soda bread sliced on the counter. There were good conversations and rock climbing. There was family and good food and laughter around the table. Oh, and naturally there was green everywhere.

Since I was a wee lass, St. Paddy’s Day was celebrated with corned beef and cabbage, talk of leprechauns, and wearing green. Sometimes leprechauns left little trinkets in my shoddy shoebox trap, in place of the potato I’d left beneath it. There was a year green Ken doll footprints were found all over the furniture in the classrooms of my school. This isn’t the religious holiday my Irish cousins observe overseas, but for one day out of the year the U.S. is enthusiastically Irish.

Contrary to popular belief, the corned beef tradition on St. Paddy's doesn’t come from Ireland, as beef was considered a luxury at the time. In the 19th century, with the potato famine sending many Irish families to the United States, many say it was because beef being more readily available and the close cultural interactions with Jewish butchers that made corned beef a staple in Irish American cuisine. Thus, the corned beef and cabbage, the beef replacing the bacon for the traditional dish, became associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

Corned beef and I have had our rocky years. At one point, I wasn’t all too fond of the dish, though I did enjoy corned beef hash (oh yes, the canned kind) immensely. Though I started to develop a taste for it, only to realize that the store-bought corned beef in brine wasn’t as Morri friendly as it could be. Sugar is the basis for many types of brine, and I was determined to have corned beef and cabbage this weekend.

The answer was to make it from scratch, homemade brine and all.

I should have let it marinate longer than five days (the bare minimum amount of time for a decent corned beef), but it was a wonderful experiment and I consider it a success regardless. Since we bought a rather large brisket and only used half (the other half was then halved again and frozen), I’m going to make it again when I have a craving for corned beef hash. Another difference is that I will use whole spices instead of ground, because it was all I had at the time and we just restocked from Penzeys this afternoon.

The recipe for the brine comes from The Caveman Bistro’s post “The Brining of the Beef – a Paleo Experiment”. Most, if not all the brines I looked at for inspiration were in fact gluten free. But refined sugar free was harder, and this paleo brine saved the day. 
Corned Beef Brisket Brine

2 qt. Water
30 ml Unrefined apple cider vinegar
8 Garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp. Sea salt
6 Dried whole bay leaves
1 tbsp. Whole peppercorns
1 tbsp. Mustard seed powder
1 tbsp. Allspice powder
1 tbsp. Ground cloves
5 -7 lbs. Beef brisket, trimmed of heavy fat (though some fat can be left on for flavor and texture)
In a large pot on the stovetop, combine water, vinegar, garlic, salt, bay, pepper, mustard, all spice and cloves and heat to a boil. 
Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, and then remove from heat and allow to cool until room temperature. 
Place brisket in the large pot with the cooled brine mixture and push the brisket down so that it is completely submerged in the brine. 
Place pot in fridge and marinate for minimum 5-7 days and up to 3 weeks.
When ready, prepare as you would a commercially prepared corned beef brisket…
Now that you have a delicious corned beef recipe waiting to happen, let’s make it even more amazing with a few additional ingredients!

The following recipe was the inspiration of the cookbook Irish Pub Cooking (2009), something I picked up at the GMU bookstore two years ago.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef, after the desired period of marinating
1 tsp. Sea salt
1 Large white onion, sliced
6 Carrots, cut into chunks
1 Turnip, thickly sliced
6 Red skinned potatoes, cut into chunks
1 Green cabbage, cored and cut into wedges
9 g Parsley (or 1 oz stemmed), coarsely chopped
Mustard, as garnish

… Drain the meat, discarding the soaking liquid, then rinse (I discarded the garlic cloves, but held onto the bay leaves and peppercorns).
Put the meat and spices (including the salt) back into the pot, and pour enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the meat to cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes or longer (I recommend using the pressure cooker to cut the time).
At the one-hour mark, add the onion, carrots, turnip, and potatoes to the pot, re-cover, and simmer for the remaining 45 minutes.
Add the cabbage and parsley on top of the broth and let it cook for another 25 – 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender.
Remove the beef, cover with aluminum foil, and let stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
Strain the vegetables (but keep the broth!) and put them into a warmed serving dish, discarding the stray bay leaves.
Carve the meat into slices and serve immediately with the vegetables, accompanied by the mustard.

Makes 8 – 10 servings.

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