Growing up there was always an excuse to throw a party, make a special meal…o it wasn’t always a party, life growing had some rough patches too. However the overall picture always brings to mind large groups of family and friends, special decorations, music, and foods to mark the occasion. By now you know what my ethnic background is but on the 17th of March each year my Mom would transform the dining room into a wee bit o’Blarney for St. Patrick’s Day. Living in NYC, with St.Patrick’s Cathedral and the
St.Patrick’s Day parade as cultural landmarks, one could not escape the Erin Go Bragh pins, the Kiss Me I’m Irish shirts, the bar crawls, the scents of Corned Beef and Cabbage wafting from people’s homes. Staten Island did and still does have a huge celebration in honor of the patron saint of Ireland along Forest Avenue, chockablock with Bars and restaurants, many owned by people of Irish decent. Tradition was (is) to follow the parade route keeping in step with the bagpipers and going from one bar to another.
At home Mom decorated in the typical bright green colors associated with St. Patty’s Day. Tablecloths, crepe paper streamers, napkins, plates..everything screamed it’s St. Patty’s Day. The center of the table would have a vase filled with carnations dyed green.
It was a real festive day and after I started going out with my girlfriend, Debi Cooney
(yes, she’s Irish) my mom would always invite her widowed dad, John Myles Cooney over for her corned beef and cabbage, boiled parsley potatoes, homemade Irish Soda Bread, slices of rye bread, brown mustard, beer, whiskey, shamrock cupcakes, Irish coffee and Irish crème. Mom always invited him (he became my father-in-law) over for this special day, he got a huge kick out of it he would tell me…”she’s more Irish than what my own family does”, and laugh. We looked forward to the St.Patty’s Day greeting card Mom and Dad would send us every year after we got married. I wish more people would follow my Mom’s example and learn and share in other ethnic groups holidays. Since our children were born in China I am very open to celebrating and learning about all the world’s celebrations and the traditions and foods that are part of them. Isn’t that more fun than just waiting for your “own” holidays every year? I think so…(One of the many St.Patrick’s Day greeting cards my Mom sent to my wife and I every year.)
Well here’s my gripe with lots of ways Corned Beef and Cabbage is prepared. It’s one of the fattiest and toughest cuts of beef, the brisket. Whether you are a bubbe in a Yiddish family, or a Romanian, or an Irish American, if the brisket it not cooked long and slow you will have a tough, fatty and greasy piece of meat. To often I’ve had corned beef out, especially at some bar restaurants (think Blarney Stone, Pig & Whistle) where it’s just not braised long enough. You have a mouthful of salty chewy grizzle and meat that doesn’t break up no matter how long you chew it. What’s the problem and what’s the secret? It’s all the cook’s fault. Boiling Brisket should be a capital offense. It’s the quickest way to toughen up those meat fibers and they only will again relax after a long long simmer in water that is not allowed to boil. Long cooking gets all the heat and moisture deep into the brisket and begins that process where every piece of connective tissue is broken down into melt in your mouth goodness. This principal is paramount in making Pot Roasts too. And like a good soup or stock your braising liquid should be well seasoned full of bright and spicy flavors, sweet, sour. The other death to your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef is when it’s improperly served, meaning, you didn’t take the time to trim it of all the fat that NOBODY will or wants to eat. Surest way to keep you from eating corned beef ever again is to put a big floppy piece of corned beef fat in your mouth when you’re not expecting it. This will put you off from eating this traditional meal FOREVER. St. Patrick does not want to see that. He wants you to enjoy this meal that honors his memory. How could I write a St.Patrick’s Day blog without one of the most IRISH pictures I took when Deb and I visited the country of Ireland in August of 1982. This was taken outside of the Derragarra Inn in County Cavan on the way from Northern Ireland to Dublin.
Lastly, for those who are sticklers for authenticity (I count myself in this OCD like group) Corned Beef is not even remotely Irish as in from Ireland. It’s an Eastern European meat processed like pastrami, from those parts of Europe that what miserable winters and needed ways to preserve the meat from the fall. NYC being the initial entry point for most of those waves of immigrants invariably would have various ethnic groups living side by side with each other. The Eastern Europeans pastrami and corned beefs were commonplace in those early immigrant years. The Irish that came in those early days were pretty much dirt poor and the meat that they simmered with cabbage was a big piece of bacon, not an American bacon, but Irish bacon, more like a cured pork loin.
Corned beef, braised with cabbage and potatoes has since become almost as American as apple Pie (although the origins of that may be in merry olde England or France) and certainly a cornerstone of Irish-American cuisine.
CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE THIS ITALIAN-AMERICAN’S WAY
Corned Beef, about a 4 -5 lb. piece, (flat cut is the nicest for an even cut)..this will feed about 4-5 people…this is one piece of meat that really shrinks as it cooks…and MUST be cut thin to really enjoy it..i hate big fatty chunks of it…Place the corned beef in a large pot and cover it with water plus 1 cup of beer, 1/4 cup of Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, or Jamesons’, must be real Irish whiskey. Add 1/2 cup of honey, 2 bay leaves, 2 chopped onions, 6 of the large outer cabbage leaves, torn, peppercorns, 4 whole cloves, 3 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. salt, 3 tbs. brown sugar, 3 tbs. mustard. 3 chopped celery stalks, 3 chopped carrots. Add 1 head of cabbage, cored and quartered to the pot.,handful of fresh dill. Blend, bring to a boil, then simmer for 60 minutes per lb, covered.
Now you have plenty of time to cook the rest of the meal. Cube 6 medium sized redskin potatoes. Boil them in plenty of salted water to which you have added 1/2 onion, and 3 smashed garlic cloves. Cook till done, this takes about 15 minutes
or when a fork or knife will easily slide through a cube. Gently drain them. Add 1/4 stick unsalted butter (or get someKerrygold Irish butter if your store sells it…)to the pot. Dice together 1/2 a red onion and 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley together.
Add them to the butter, it will be melting from the heat of the pot, now add the potatoes, some salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Keep stirring this and the potatoes begin to “smash”, you will be left with a pot of smashed well seasoned potatoes…don’t over work them, the’ll just turn into mashed potatoes with skins. Cover and just reheat gently when ready to serve.
The corned beef needs to sit in its braising liquid for a good 5 hours (even better if you do it the day before and reheat it, then slice it) before you slice it. If you can push your finger through the meat, it’s done. Firm Corned beef has no place on your plate. This is brisket, the same rules apply.
Serve the cabbage quarters on the side, add a little butter if you like, but they are seasoned and savory enough from all that stewing in the meat braising liquid. Cabbage is a tough hardy vegetable..it will stay together for this long cooking. You want fork tender cabbage, this isn’t Cole Slaw.
And here is Cook O’A Food Obsession with his St.Patrick’s Day Spread…
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! Gaelic for…St. Patrick’s Day Blessing On You!!