Wednesday, March 16, 2011


This is another of those things we make as part of our seasonal routine, but since Jack loves it so much, we also try to make it whenever he comes home. If it’s a busy day, you can just throw everything in the same pot, adding the cabbage, carrots and potatoes in the last hour of cooking, and everyone will eat it and it will be fine. But it all seems so pale and wan when done that way. When the vegetables are browned and added separately, the color, flavor and texture are all better.

So here’s the strategy, formula, and technique. The proportions are more or less, give or take; make adjustments depending on the size of your meat and how many people you’re serving. Multiply or divide as you wish:

You’ll need a deep pot with a lid that holds your piece of meat snugly, with some room around it, but keep in mind that as it cooks it will shrink some. You may cook this on top of the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker, which works very nicely.

Place an onion or two, sliced lengthwise, in the bottom of the pot. I like to rinse the corned beef first, though many people don’t. On top of this place your corned beef and cover with more sliced onions, along with a bay leaf, one or two garlic cloves, and a few tablespoons of pickling spice. You can just throw the spices into the pot, but I prefer to wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth, or a couple of coffee filters, tied at the top, or put them in a tea ball. Otherwise you have to either deal with getting it out or you have to put up with it in your teeth.

Pickling spice: a mix of allspice, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, dill, peppercorns, dark and light mustard seeds, and bay leaves. Other spices such as celery seed, chili, caraway, ginger or fenugreek can be added as you like. For corned beef, I go light on the cloves and cinnamon, and heavier on the coriander and mustard.

Pour in a half to a whole beer. I prefer lager or lighter beer, as a darker or black beer can be too strong and cover the other flavors (you may drink the remaining beer, or use it later in your soda bread). Fill pot with water to just cover the meat. Bring heat up to a simmer, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, cover and let it cook for about two hours, every once in a while skimming any foam off the top. If you’re cooking it in the oven, set temperature to 300˚. If you’re using a slow cooker and it will be in all day, set it on low; if you’ve only got a few hours, set it on high. Whichever way you cook it, keep the heat low and try not to let it boil.

About an hour and a half before you’re ready to eat, melt some butter and/or oil in a sauté pan. Add whole new potatoes or large potatoes that have been peeled and cut into fairly large chunks or rounds, along with a carrot or two that have been peeled and cut into 1-2” pieces. More potatoes, less carrots. Cook, turning frequently so that they don’t stick, until they start to brown. Sprinkle the vegetables with a tablespoon or so of flour, toss it around, and continue to cook until potatoes are nicely browned.

Remove the meat from the pot and set it on a plate, covered. Run the broth through a sieve, pushing the softened onions through the mesh.  Return the meat to the pot, along with the potatoes and carrots, and a fresh bay leaf. Taste the broth to determine the saltiness, and if it is very strong and salty, dilute with water to taste before you add most of it back to the pot, reserving some for the cabbage. Cover and continue to cook on low for another hour or until the potatoes are just soft.

Meanwhile, cut a green or red cabbage in half. Notice how beautiful it is. Cut the core out, and cut into 1-2” wedges and then into 1-2” lengths. In the same pot you used for the potatoes, add a little more butter/oil and brown and onion, cut in thin wedges and then cut in half. Add cabbage. Saute over medium low heat, stirring frequently until it begins to soften and brown around the edges. Again notice how beautiful it is. Add a cup or two of the strained juice from the corned beef, scrape everything up from the bottom, cover and cook on a low heat until very soft. Remove the lid and cook off any excess liquid. Season with pepper, and salt only if needed, remembering that the meat may be fairly salty.

Let the meat rest on a plate or board, covered, for about 10 minutes. Slice corned beef against the grain and serve with cabbage and vegetables in a deep plate or bowl. Pour broth all around and add plenty of chopped parsley and freshly grated pepper.

Pass mustard or horseradish, or if you’re like me, enjoy it plain.

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