I have a few annual food traditions. One of my favorites is St. Patrick's Day. Here in the U.S. (and not, I learned, in Ireland), the traditional dinner is corned beef and cabbage. Hearty, hot, and steamy, iit's perfect for the time of year, the last coughs of winter.
But for a foodie, the problem is the corned beef. The grocery store's normal variety, in the vacuum-wrapped bag, is — well, it's pink. As in, day-glo. To get the vibrant pink color, they cure the beef with nitrites and nitrates. I'm not worried about the chemicals (especially since this is generally just once a year), but the heavy handed curing leaves the beef tasting salty, metallic, and not like beef.
Years ago, I made my own. It's not difficult but it takes a couple of weeks. The good news is that it tastes like beef!! But without any nitrates at all, it's decidedly not pink. It looks rather gray. Tastes great but not much to look at.
A couple of years ago, I happened to be at Los Gatos Meats (or, as I call it, meat heaven) and saw corned beef. They make it there!
Long story short, it is wonderful. Somehow, they manage to get it to be pink without making it taste like a chemistry set.
For those who don't live near here, I spied some corned beef at Trader Joe's that said it was made without nitrates. I don't know if it's good — but it looked like a better alternative thanthe neon briskets at the grocery store. If you try it, or know another source for the Good Stuff, please leave a comment.
Once you find a good source, cooking it is not tricky — just allow enough time.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
No quantities are shown here because it doesn't matter. Allow a pound of beef per person, maybe two to guarantee lots of leftovers (you will want leftovers). For 4 servings, use 2-4 carrots and potatoes and one or two of each of the other vegetables and one head of cabbage.
Potatoes (yukon gold or red)
One head cabbage
Spicy mustard and horseradish
Note: In most recipes, the beef and vegetables are cooked together. The vegetables will be less salty and less greasy if you cook them in a separate pot.
Start 4-5 hours before the time you want to serve dinner.
Remove the corned beef from the package and place in a pot. Cover with water plus an inch. Add the spice packet that comes with the beef. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3-5 hours. The meat is ready when a skewer slides in easily and you can remove it without it sticking enough to lift the meat from the water. If the meat is done early, no worries, just turn off the heat and keep it warm.
Prepare the vegetable. Trim and clean or peel the root vegetables. Remove the outer layers of cabbage and cut the head in four to six wedges, cutting through the root. Each wedge will have a section of the root which holds the leaves together.
Place the root vegetables in a second pot with a few inches of water. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer, to steam the vegetables for 20 minutes. Add the cabbage and steam another 15 minutes.
While the vegetables are finishing, remove the meat to a cutting board (save the water) and slice against the grain, in about 1/4"-thick slices.
Serve in a big bowl with the vegetables on the bottom, topped with the sliced beef. Serve with spicy mustard and horseradish.
And beer. Preferably, an Irish stout! (Maybe corned beef and cabbage is not genuinely Irish but an Irish brew can't hurt!)