What would St. Patrick’s Day be without glittered shamrocks and leprechauns, and for the menu, green beer and corned beef and cabbage? And why do we associate these with Ireland? With the exception of shamrocks, they are not to be found on the Emerald Isle. Leprechauns are mean, vicious little people, not the charming folks of advertising. The Irish would never sully their national brew with green dye. Corned beef is not an Irish dish.
But the rest of the world, especially those of us in North America, can’t let facts get in the way of a good party. A couple of years ago, I announced to cruising friends who, like us, were going stir-crazy after a long, wet winter, that we’d have the Chelsea Lynn moored at the dock at Blake Island, for “Lá Fhéile Pádraig,”the Feast of St. Patrick, and invited them to join us. The entire island is a Washington state park located across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle, an easy destination for our Seattle cruising buddies. I decided to make my own corned beef for my contribution to the St. Paddy’s day festivities.
St. Patrick’s Day has been an official Christian feast day since the early 17th century, but it’s only become a green-tinged party since Irish-Americans began looking for a way to honour their heritage and homeland. In the last 150 years, they transformed St. Patrick’s Day from a religious feast day into a cultural party. It didn’t take long for corned beef and cabbage to become associated with the North American St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
The best corned beef, however, did not originate in Ireland. For centuries, cows in Ireland were a symbol of wealth. They were too valuable to be eaten, unless you were of the aristocracy. Hogs were the most common animal bred for food.
What we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. After the Potato Famine of the 1840s brought about a million Irish men and women to North America, they were looking for a way to celebrate their cultural heritage. Staunch Catholics, they turned to their patron saint for inspiration, St. Patrick. For the menu, they turned to the new neighbours.
The Jewish community, particularly in NewYork City, made corned beef from beef brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow. Brisket is a tougher cut, but the brining and cooking processes transform the meat into the tender, flavourful corned beef we know today.
The popularity of corned beef and cabbage has never crossed back across the pond to the homeland. There, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal is lamb or bacon.
Making corned beef and cabbage sandwiches is easy. So is making your own corned beef, for that matter. Whether you make it at home ahead of time, or on board, it only requires a little patience and refrigerator space to store a beef brisket while marinating in the brine for 10 days or so.
With St. Paddy’s Day coming on March 17, you still have time to make your own corned beef for a traditional Irish party that isn’t, well, all that traditional, after all.
- 2 litres water
- 11/4 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
- 8 whole cloves, crushed
- 8 whole allspice berries, crushed
- 12 whole juniper berries, crushed
- 2 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 kilogram (2 pounds) ice
- 2 kilograms (4 to 5 pounds) beef brisket, trimmed
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
- Crush berries and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, or place in a sealed bag and whack with a mallet or heavy pan.
- Place the water in a stockpot along with salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until salt and sugar have dissolved.
- Remove from heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine in the refrigerator until it reaches a tem- perature of 7°C (45°F) or less.
- Once cooled, place the brisket in a two-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days.
- Flip daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.
- After 10 days, remove brisket from the brine and rinse well under cool water.
- Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water.
- Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover and gently simmer 2.5 to three hours or until meat is fork tender.
- Remove from pot, rest 10 minutes, and thinly slice across the grain.
Corned Beef and Cabbage Sandwiches
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 head cabbage, cut into small wedges
- 1 bottle Guinness (or other dark beer)
- 8 ciabatta rolls
- 450 grams (1 pound) corned beef
- 225 grams (1/2 pound) Swiss cheese
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F.)
- Warm a skillet on medium-high heat.
- Add olive oil and sear the cabbage wedges on both sides (about one minute each).
- Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Place the cabbage wedges on the cooling rack, then pour the Guinness through the holes of the cooling rack so it fills the bottom of the baking sheet.
- Carefully place the baking sheet in the oven and cook cabbage for about 20 minutes, or until the edges have browned a bit.
- Assemble the sandwiches: Slice the ciabatta rolls in half. Spread mustard on one side, top with slices of corned beef, Swiss cheese and cabbage.