Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Corned Beef really Irish?

3/16/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Is corned beef really Irish?

I can tell that St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner by walking down the aisle of the meat market. Corned beef briskets — that normally occupy a small area of the shelves — are piled high in a display that screams, “Buy me! Buy me!”

Here in the United States it has become tradition to eat a version of a New England boiled dinner on March 17 and proclaim it to be traditionally Irish. But is it really? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

The Irish are known to have figured out a way to salt-cure beef sometime in the first millennium A.D. so obviously they have eaten corned beef for a long time. They just didn’t eat much of it. Cattle were an indicator of wealth and prized as a medium for barter. They were only slaughtered when they were no longer good for milking or breeding. In other words, they were worth more alive than dead.

Pork and lamb were the meats served on special occasions. Beef, a rare delicacy, was eaten fresh. Even during the potato famine they shipped corned beef to other markets. not corned. So most of the corned beef eaten in Ireland on March 17, will be served to tourists, not locals. The Irish tend to look upon corned beef as a reminder of their days of poverty and famine. Some commentators suggest that it’s just too plain, boring or old-fashioned for modern Irish tastes.

Personally, I love corned beef and that’s what we’ll be eating tomorrow. Today’s first recipe is from an old cookbook that adds an unexpected finishing touch of whole cloves and maple sugar. It’s fork tender and delicious.

An Irish lamb stew is probably more traditional for the Irish than corned beef. It’s a little more time consuming to put together than corned beef but it can be made the day before, refrigerated overnight and reheated for dinner. Recipe number two is easily doubled, nicely feeds a crowd and is almost as inexpensive as corned beef.

Be sure and serve Irish Soda Bread with either recipe. It is traditional. In Ireland, soda bread is baked daily. It is a basic quick bread made from flour, salt, baking soda and sour milk; meant to be eaten that day and not held over. A traditional soda bread does not contain yeast, honey, sugar, eggs, sour cream or fruit. We Americans tend to get carried away and make it more cake or scone-like. My recipe has been ever so slightly Americanized. Enjoy!

Serves 8 as adapted from
“The Yankee Cookbook”

4-5 pounds corned beef
1 large onion cut in 8 pieces
1 head cabbage, halved, cored and quartered
8 small whole carrots
8 small potatoes, pared
1 white turnip, pared and quartered
Whole Cloves
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pot Liquor:
2 cups cooking liquid
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter

Cover corned beef with water and bring to boiling point. Drain, cover with hot water and let simmer until nearly done (4 hours). Add the vegetables and simmer until done. Remove the vegetables to a pan, cover and keep warm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place meat on a rack in an open roasting pan. Stick with whole cloves in diagonal design. Pour maple syrup over meat and put in oven to brown and glaze. Baste occasionally with maple syrup.

Meanwhile, make pot liquor: skim off excess oil from the cooking liquid. Stir in butter and parsley. To serve, slice meat on the diagonal against the grain. Spoon juices over meat and vegetables.


1-1/4 pounds thickly sliced bacon, diced
5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup hot water
3-1/2 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons sugar
3-1/2 cups carrots, sliced
1-1/2 large onions, cut bite size
3 large potatoes, large dice
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Optional: 1 cup white wine or 1 can dark beer

Fry bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat until brown. Remove from skillet, drain, crumble and set aside. Reserve bacon drippings.

Put flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Toss lamb cubes in flour to coat evenly. Re-heat bacon drippings and brown meat in frying pan.

Place meat into stock pot, leaving 1/4 cup of fat in frying pan. Add the minced garlic and onion. Sauté until onion begins to brown. Deglaze frying pan with 1/2 cup water and put garlic, onions and liquid in stock pot. Add the bacon pieces, beef stock and sugar. Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.

Add carrots, onions, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and wine/beer to pot. Reduce heat and simmer covered until vegetables are tender.


2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup margarine, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients with margarine, 1/2 cup buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter with remaining buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean — about 30 to 45 min. Continue to brush the loaf with butter mixture while it bakes. Serves 6-8.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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