What is corned beef? Is corned beef Irish? Find out the history behind this St. Patrick’s Day staple, and get our easy Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe. This is the only recipe you’ll need to get perfect corned beef brisket every time!
Corned Beef and Cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day
St Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, so now is the perfect time to head out and stock up on corned beef, cabbage, and red potatoes.
For us, mid-March is not complete without a full-fledged Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner.
Is Corned Beef Irish?
As excited as we get about Corned Beef and Cabbage around St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a bit of a bummer to find out that it isn’t actually an Irish tradition.
However, that shouldn’t come as much surprise, since the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York, and not in Ireland.
Back home, their meat of choice was pork (particularly thick slabs of bacon and sausages), but unfortunately, here in the States, beef was much more affordable for these poor immigrant.
Living alongside Jewish immigrants, the corned beef of Jewish delis had a similar flavor to their beloved Irish bacon, but it was a MUCH cheaper.
Add some nutrient-dense (and cheap!) cabbage, and you’ve got yourself a comforting meal that was enough of a reminder of home to catch on and become a staple.
What Is Corned Beef?
Believe it or not, the term ‘corned’ in ‘corned beef’ actually has nothing to do with the yellow vegetable that grows in ears.
Rather, ‘corned’ refers to large rock salt kernels that were used to cure the beef as a method of preservation.
Preservation with this type of salt came to be known as ‘corning’ because the large salt kernels were called ‘corns’ of salt.
Why Is Corned Beef Pink?
The first time we boiled a corned beef brisket and it didn’t turn out pink, we thought we had done something seriously wrong.
Turns out, we hadn’t.
It had more to do with the way the meat had been prepared than anything that we did.
Sodium nitrite is used instead of rock salt in the modern day curing process. This sodium nitrate gives corned beef its characteristic flavor, and it also preserves the pink color of the meat as it cures and as it cooks.
If your corned beef brisket hasn’t been brined for long enough, it won’t have as much flavor, and it won’t retain that pink color.
Should You Rinse Corned Beef Brisket Before Cooking?
Typically, store bought corned beef briskets will come packaged with some of their sodium nitrate brine.
You will find differing opinions about rinsing off the brine. Some people say you should rinse it off, others say it’s not necessary.
We’ve done both, and have found that, while it’s not necessary, we find that our finished product is often less salty if we rinse the brine first. (Which we prefer.)
However, we also find that some corned beef products haven’t been in their brine for an optimal amount of time, so rinsing the brine off weakens the flavor and dulls the characteristic pink color that you look for in corned beef. Which makes choosing a quality corned beef product very important. (More on that below.)
How To Choose A Corned Beef Brisket
If you’re heading out to get your first corned beef brisket, you will be met with a big decision: Flat Cut or Point Cut?
CHOOSE THE FLAT!
Is that convincing enough?
The flat cut of the brisket is more lean and more uniform in shape and size, leading to a corned beef dinner that is not overly fatty, and a cut of meat that will slice up nice and even for serving.
The point cut of the brisket may be more tender, but it yields much less meat for serving, because it’s 50% fat. The point is a good cut if you want to smoke some brisket (the fat keeps it juicy during a long smoking time), but not if you’re going to boil it. (Unless, of course, you like your veggies coated in a layer of beef fat. But that decision is up to you.)
Aside from the cut of meat, the quality of your corned beef product does matter. As we mentioned above, we have come across some corned beef products that haven’t been brined long enough, some that have been brined too much, and others that are way overly salty.
So, how to do you choose which corned beef product to buy?
We always trust Certified Angus Beef® brand for our beef, and when it comes to corned beef, it is no exception.
We’ve bought many bands of corned beef over the years, and finally decided to do a side-by-side cook-off to really see the difference.
In the picture above you can see the Certified Angus Beef® brand corned beef brisket on the left. You can see that the meat has a beautiful color and the meat retains its nice grain and structure. The meat on the right is a bit off in color, and the meat grains are a bit less defined.
What blew our minds from this taste test is how meaty the texture of the Certified Angus Beef® brand corned beef brisket was, versus how spongy the other corned beef brisket was. Certified Angus Beef® brand felt like we were eating brisket, while the other didn’t really feel like we were eating meat.
For us, this test really drove home how important is is to find a quality corned beef product if you want the best corned beef and cabbage dinner possible.
How Much Corned Beef Brisket To Buy
When thinking about how much corned beef to buy, you need to remember that brisket does have a decent amount of fat in it. (Even in the flat cut.) This fat will be lost in cooking, meaning you always want to buy more corned beef than you think you’ll need.
A good estimate is that the edible portion of a flat cut will be between 1/2 and 2/3 of the uncooked weight.
So, a 3 lb brisket will give you roughly 1.75-2 lbs of meat.
Keep in mind, each cut can vary greatly in amount of fat depending on how it was cut. We always buy more than we think we need.
There are much worse things in the world than leftover corned beef brisket to use for Reuben sandwiches.
- 4 lb flat cut corned beef brisket, with juice and spice packet
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1-2 quarts water
- 2.5 lbs red potatoes, quartered
- 1 lb carrots, cut into 2” sections
- 1 small cabbage, cut into wedges
- Place the brisket in a large stock pot and cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil and boil, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes. Skim any the foam that forms on the top of the water.
- Add the spice packet and onion to the pot. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 3 hours.
- Add the potatoes and carrots (and additional water if necessary so that the veggies are mostly covered.) Cover and continue to simmer for 1 hour.
- Add the cabbage. Cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, until the cabbage is brightly colored and tender.
- Serve with Irish soda bread.
IN THE CROCK POT
Boil your beef for 5 minutes as directed in step 1.
Add the par-boiled beef and remaining ingredients, except the cabbage, to your crock pot, using enough water to nearly cover the ingredients. Cook over low heat for 8-10 hours or high heat for 5-6 hours. Add the cabbage to the top of everything 20 minutes before you will be serving the meal.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 532
To say we make corned beef often is an understatement. We’ve updated our pictures since we first shared this recipe on Curious Cuisiniere, but we’ve left some originals here, in case you’ve found us in the past and are looking for that old, familiar image.
If you liked this recipe, here are some similar dishes you may enjoy!
Sarah is co-owner of Curious Cuisiniere and the chief researcher and recipe developer for the site. Her love for cultural cuisines was instilled early by her French Canadian Grandmother. Her experience in the kitchen and in recipe development comes from years working in professional kitchens. She has traveled extensively and enjoys bringing the flavors of her travels back to create easy-to-make recipes.