Well, St. Patrick's day has come and gone, and since I wasn't about to eat two corned beefs this year -- a test recipe and then some on the actual day, although D would have jumped for joy -- I wasn't able to post this recipe before the actual holiday. So sue me -- it's late, but better late than never. I suppose I could have live-blogged the whole thing, but... corned beef just isn't that interesting. It's pretty basic: throw some spices and a lump of beef into a pot, add some water, and simmer. For hours. See, not a very wild and crazy event that necessitates live-blogging -- lots of down time and wasted minutes peering into a pot of meat. But the results are fabulous, about what you'd expect from boiling four pounds of beef for three hours, so it's certainly something worth making. We selected a 3-pound brisket made by Vienna Beef.
Vienna Beef is one of Chicago's true treasures. They claim to have invented the Chicago hot dog, which is the best type of hot dog in the entire universe: an all-beef kosher dog, eight to the pound, nestled in a poppyseed bun and topped with yellow mustard, chopped onion, neon relish, tomato wedges, a whole pickle spear, celery salt, and sport peppers. If you want to see a handy, clickable chart (which has an error: ketchup is not permitted on Chicago-style dogs no matter what you say, Vienna Beef People, and I know this as fact: Hot Diggity Dogs, one of my favorite hot dog shacks, has a pretty strict rule about this that necessitates a stern warning sign) head on over to Vienna Beef's Periodic Table of Hot Dog Elements. I promise this now: I will force D to do a guest post on hot dogs, done up proper Chicago-style, sometime in the near future. They're one of his favorite things about Chicago, and for good reason. Anyhow, Vienna Beef is also good for other meat-based and meat-related products, such as corned beef. Did you know, by the way, that the corned beef we know and love isn't what they eat in Ireland? Surprise! It's been Americanized! While we cure our corned beef by brining or pickling it, the traditional method was to cure it by rubbing a side of pork using large grains -- or corns -- of salt. So the dish is very different than traditional Irish fare, which is more like boiled bacon. Do you want to try and make that? Be my guest: check out this wonderful recipe for authentic "corned beef" -- they call it Boiled Bacon -- at EuropeanCuisines.com. But that's not what we made: I was raised on American Corned Beef, and that's what I have to have in my kitchen on St. Patrick's Day.
One of the best things about cooking corned beef is that it's a one-pot recipe, which I always enjoy. Instead of mucking around with the entire stove, four pots boiling away, you only need one large pot for this recipe. We used our lobster pot, which isn't good for much but taking up room in the cabinet -- it's got a very thin bottom -- but it's perfect for boiling a large hunk of meat. You'll need at least an 8-quart stockpot for this recipe, but the larger your pot is, the better your dish will be: more water means more leftover stock, which can turn ordinary rice, couscous, soups, and stews into phenomenal culinary masterpieces.
Corned Beef and Cabbage
Begin by rinsing one corned beef brisket -- we chose one that was 3 pounds -- and place it in your stockpot, fatty side up. You need a stockpot that's at least 8 quarts. Make five to eight deep X marks in the beef using a sharp knife. Insert 2 to 3 whole cloves in some of the X's and 5 whole cloves of peeled garlic into the remaining X-marks. Our beef had slightly too many cloves in it -- we used four whole cloves total -- and I'd recommend only using two for better results. Cover the meat with water until the meat is about three inches below the water level (we used about 12 cups of water total).
Add spices: the Vienna Beef recipe requires 1/2 a teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning, which isn't something I keep on hand, so I improvised. Old Bay is just a blend of spices, typically made with bay leaves, dry mustard, celery salt, ground black and white pepper, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cardamom, and salt, so it's fairly easy to replicate. I simply put a dash of whatever I had in my pantry from that list (see photograph) and the resulting blend was intoxicating. In addition to the Old Bay seasoning, add 2 cinnamon sticks (again: don't keep those in my house, but I probably should: a simple shake of cinnamon worked just fine) along with 2 bay leaves and 8 whole peppercorns.
Slice two large carrots and one stalk of celery into 2-inch long chunks and add those to the pot as well. Now that all of the major ingredients are in the pot, add some heat. Bring the entire thing to a boil and skim off any of the foam that rises to the top of the water, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for two to three hours, until the meat is tender, then add vegetables.
We used cabbage, of course, and simply quartered one large head into manageable chunks. In addition, we threw in about 1-1/2 pounds of scrubbed baby red potatoes, skin on; 4 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1-inch chunks; 2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes; and 1 pound of carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces. When you have about 30 to 45 minutes remaining, add the vegetables to the pot and simmer until they're tender. The beef should be 160º before serving, and will still look pink when served.
The best thing about corned beef and cabbage has got to be the leftovers. Not only do you end up with a fantastic stock, you'll undoubtedly have at least some meat leftover. It's perfect in sandwiches, delicious when cut into small cubes and fried with potatoes into corned beef hash, and is a great appetizer when served with capers and mustard. Of course, a cold corned beef sandwich is the perfect way to get rid of any remaining meat: simply throw some on a roll with a generous slather of mustard and top with leftover cabbage.
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