Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ode to the Irish

Here's my March column from the Petaluma Post:

With March upon us it is time to bring out the corned beef to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, but wait a minute; the Irish don’t celebrate St Paddy’s Day, just us Americans.  But who cares!  It’s an Irish-American tradition we all embrace, it is great fun and a good excuse to make a classic New England boiled dinner that we all love.  It is easy to write about it now since the 400+ pounds of corned beef have not yet made their way across our stoves here at PSC.  By the end of the month I won’t be able to give it away.  I really prefer mine in November.

Saint Patrick was a Christian missionary to Ireland in the first half of the 5th century.  Actually a welsh boy who was a slave in Ireland before escaping back to Briton and joining the church, only to return to Ireland as a Bishop, and to be so hailed by the Irish for his good works to become the patron saint of Ireland.  That speaks very well of his character, talk about someone with a cross to bear!  But he served the Irish people well and true to his calling.  Our Irish (from Ireland) friends tell us he is respected and remembered on his day, with a bit of hoo-ha, but they don’t make a party of it, don’t particularly associate corned beef with him either.  That’s all us.  So enjoy a good old fashioned Irish American holiday!

What is corned beef you ask?  To corn something is to preserve it in salt. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with corn.  The “corn” refers to the large rough granules of salt they used in the past.  The meat was preserved in either a wet or dry method which also tenderized it.  Originally the brisket and the eye round were used but today you will often also find bottom round which is a much larger cut.  The most popular and common is the brisket, this cut comes from the lower quarter of the cow and is thin and known to be stringy, which makes it a great candidate to be tenderized by corning.  It takes best to long slow cooking and needs to be carved correctly for the best results.  The brisket will have a fat cap on the top, it is best to leave it intact when cooking, and then remove while carving.

Corned beef is packed with pickling spices; they may be loose with the meat or in a separate packet.  If loose it will rinse away when you rinse the meat, it has been in the packaging and added flavor already.  You can add additional if you have in your cupboard.  If it includes a packet with the meat add to the top of the pot when you boil.

Buying corned beef depends on the use.  As I mention there are eye rounds, usually in the deli case and are best for sandwiches, then there is the bottom round, which is quite large at 12 to 15 pounds and good for feeding a big family, and finally there is my favorite, the brisket.  A full brisket will weigh about 12 pounds,  however you can find it cut into 2 or 3 pieces for home use.  It is a triangular piece of meat.  The tip of the brisket is usually on the thinner side getting thicker towards the blunt end. This can be helpful if you are short on time.  If you are in a hurry and only have an hour or two to cook look for the tip portion, as the blunt end will likely take 2 to 3 hours of cooking.

To serve 4
4 lb piece of corned beef
1 lb new potatoes
1 lb carrots, you can cheat and use baby or peel and cut your own
1 head white cabbage
1 large pot

Open the corned beef package and rinse well.  Then place it in a large pot and cover well with water, it will float and that is okay since you will turn it during cooking.  Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down to a low boil and leave to cook.  For a thin piece 1 hour, for the blunt end approximately 2 to 2½  hours. Make sure there is always in enough water to cover and turn 2 to 3 times.  After enough time, test with a fork, which should go in and come out easily.  Now add the potatoes and carrots, and boil for an additional 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.  Add cabbage and boil another 5 minutes till all is tender.

Sidebar: Cooking of cabbage- this is very personal; I like cabbage and do not feel the need to cook it to mush, but others expect it that way.  You might need to add additional time for your taste.

Gently remove everything from the pot, and cover cabbage, potatoes and carrots to keep warm.  Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board for carving; the key is to carve across the grain, it should look like you just cut across a rope.  Platter and serve.  Our family likes it with a good stone ground mustard.

Enjoy your meal, save the left overs, and now the best part of corned beef --- the Hash! It’s not just for breakfast. Yes that I can eat any time of the year.  It is also a great make ahead dish and freezes very well.

1 lb left over corned beef, chopped well or ground
1 lb boiled peeled potatoes
1 lb yellow onions well diced
Additions- diced red bell pepper, diced carrots

Hash is so simple; make it to your liking. Some like a very big and chunky style, some a very smooth patty.  I am somewhere in the middle, a good hand chop fits the bill, pieces small enough to get a bit of everything with every bite, but big enough to be recognizable.

In a large skillet heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil, start with the onions, sauté till tender and golden.  Add the beef and potatoes, if you like it crisp, stir well and then turn the heat down and step away.  Control the urge to stir, instead use a spatula to turn over areas at a time. If necessary finish it the oven till heated through.

Top with the classic poached eggs, and for a very decadent meal think about topping with hollandaise.


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