Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Food – It’s NOT Corned Beef and Cabbage

Many of you may be enjoying some corned beef and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but you may not know that it is very unlikely that people in Ireland will be eating it on St. Patrick’s Day…or indeed any day. That’s because corned beef and cabbage is more of an American dish that became the staple of Irish emigrants when they landed in the US. Hugh O’Neill, originally from Dublin, was a chef in Denver for many years, having his own restaurant, Hugh’s Bistro. He was the owner of St. Killian’s Cheese Shop also in Denver. He now writes about food on his blog

O’Neill says that corned beef and cabbage was embraced by Irish emigrants in New York and has its roots in Jewish delis in Brooklyn.

“When the Irish came over here, the Jews were the only people who would give them the time of day, because the Irish had this strange language,  and they were all emaciated from the famine, it was in the 1850s, the Jews were poor themselves, and they looked after the Irish because they had this shared history. They were both oppressed peoples, they didn’t have their lands, and the Italians didn’t like them, the Germans didn’t like them, so the Jews took them in and as soon as the Irish started to earn a bit of money they said “well lets support these guys” so the only place was the deli, they’d go down to the deli and there was no bacon there. So they said “let’s see what they have” and the cheapest cut of beef was the brisket, so they started eating the brisket. And it was a no brainer for them to put it with cabbage and potatoes and then it became the dish of the Irish immigrants, but they never had it in Ireland, which is interesting.”

Having researched the history of corned beef and cabbage, O’Neill decided to develop a recipe for corned beef and cabbage which he says has now become a global food for immigrants.


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Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe:
Recipe adapted from the book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.

The Brine

1/2 gallon/ 2 liters water

1 cup/ 225 grams sea salt

1/4 cup/ 100 grams sugar

1/2 ounce/ 12 grams pink salt (2 1/2 teaspoons) or 2 cups salted red beet water from cooking 2 beets

3 garlic cloves, smashed

2 tablespoons Pickling Spice

2 1/2 pounds/ a kilo or so, of beef brisket

1 tablespoon pickling spice

Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot, except the beet water, if you choose to use it. Bring to a simmer, stir, making sure the sugar and salt are dissolved. Cool to room temp. Refrigerate until chilled and add 2 cups of salted beet water.

Put the brisket in the brine. Weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.

Take it out, rinse it thoroughly. Put it in a pot and add water, or a mix of water and chicken stock to cover. Add the remaining pickling spice and a few pieces of leek, carrot and onion; bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer on top of the stove or in the oven until the brisket is fork tender. This one cooked in the oven for 4 hours at 300F/148C. After 3 hours I added a couple of large halved potatoes to steam on top.

When it’s ready, remove the corned beef from the cooking liquid. Slice and serve on top of steamed cabbage or home-made sauerkraut. Serve each person a piece of carrot, leek, onion and potato. Use some of the cooking broth to moisten the meat.

Pickling Spice

Adapted from Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon allspice berries

ground mace or nutmeg

1 cinnamon stick broken into pieces

12 bay leaves, crumbled

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a small dry pan and smash them with the side of a knife or in a mortar. Combine with the remaining ingredients. Store in a glass jar.

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