Strangely enough, Ireland has produced a lot of corned beef, but most Irishmen didn’t start eating it until they came to the New World.
Commercial production started during the English Industrial Revolution when British landlords grew, corned (preserved with salt) and exported beef from coastal areas of Ireland. The best beef sustained British troops; inferior cuts fed slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations. Most Irishmen couldn’t afford it.
The demand for beef contributed to Irish famine, since farm families were forced onto poorer land that produced mostly potatoes.
What makes modern-day corned beef look so pink? It turns out that sodium nitrite – the same thing added to cured meats like bacon – is mixed with regular salt and artificially colored bright pink as a safety measure, since high doses are toxic. Sodium nitrite extends shelf life of meat, but is a carcinogen. After the U.S. government restricted its use in the 1920s, rates of gastic cancer deaths plummeted.
Corned beef can be prepared from scratch without using sodium nitrite, but most people would rather pick up a plastic package of the brined pink meat, which comes complete with a spice packet. Slowly simmering meat, vegetables and spices together for several hours is the key to this dish. ❚
Coned Beef & Cabbage
- 3.5 to 5 lbs. corned beef brisket trimmed of most fat and cut in half
- Spice packet or 2 Tb. pickling spices
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 Tb. cider vinegar
- 2 Tb. sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 red potatoes halved
- 4 carrots peeled and sliced in chunks
- 2 onions large dice
- 3 stalks celery large dice
- Small green cabbage cored and sliced
- Place the vegetables, except cabbage, in 5-qt. crock pot and top with beef.
- Add seasonings to 3 C. water and pour over meat.
- Top with cabbage.
- Cook covered on low until meat is fork tender, 8 to 9 hours.
- Season if needed and fish out bay leaves.
- Strain liquid to remove hard spices.
- Slice beef across the grain and savor.