Cooking

The Salt in Our Stars

Make homemade corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day
Homemade Irish Corned Beef
Photos: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

Here's the thing about corned beef and cabbage: It's not really a Saint Patrick's Day dish. Yes, there's an Irish tie-in, but what we think of as corned beef is totally American in origin and a delightful cross-cultural mash-up, at that.

Here's the massively oversimplified Reader's Digest version of how the dish came to be: Salted pork (think: bacon) was popular in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Irish immigrants began arriving in New York in the 1840s, that pork was replaced by cured brisket from kosher butchers, a more affordable cut that still tasted like the old country. Slow-cooked with cheap vegetables (like potatoes and cabbage), a new national dish was born—for Irish Americans that is.

You'd be hard-pressed to find corned beef on the table on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, but that's beside the point. You don't have to be Irish, Irish American or Jewish to love the tangy, salty cured beef (see the recipe). What you do have to be is patient—the process of curing your own beef is simple, but it does take time. Six days of time, to be exact. That's why people are more likely to buy a hunk of the meat than they are to make it at home, but it's worth the effort.

You already know that brining large, tough cuts of meat (like brisket) makes them juicy and, to put a fine scientific point on the process, essentially helps season the muscle from the inside out. Your brisket will be lounging for nearly a week in a hyper-flavorful solution laced with everything from mustard seeds to juniper berries, but the real star here is highly concentrated pink curing salt, which gives the meat that telltale rosy hue and signature salty flavor. (Fun fact: The Brits invented the term "corned beef" in the 17th century to describe the corn kernel-size salt crystals used to cure meat.)

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When brine time is up, cook that beef low and slow in an aromatic-infused broth until it's nice and tender, but not falling apart—you should carve the brisket into proper slices like the beautiful hunk of meat it is.

But what of the Guinness, you cry? It's still there—throw a splash of the beloved stout into the cabbage you'll serve alongside the corned beef, but don't go expecting some mushy braised monstrosity (see the recipe). Get some char on the cabbage over high heat, then combine it with sweet, jammy onions and a blast of white wine vinegar to achieve a sweet-and-sour agrodolce effect. It might not be the most traditional, but when it comes to corned beef and cabbage, what is?

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