I promised that I would share these thoughts on corned beef before March 17th.
Corned beef is one of those delicacies that is cross-cultural. Ecumenical. From the Jewish delis of New York to the dinner tables of the Philippines, corned beef has proved its versatility.
Think of the Reuben sandwich, the kind that leaves a veneer of butter grease on your fingertips as the unctuous interior fights to escape.
Just don’t mess with the Reuben basics and you should be fine.
In my neighborhood, corned beef dinner is prepared with a religious fervor. First generation Irish explain that their parents never had so much as a forkful of corned beef in their native Ireland. An unthinkable extravagance. In Ireland, you’d consider yourself lucky with a pot of cabbage and boiled bacon. Corned beef and cabbage is a uniquely American version of the Irish culinary experience.
And in Chicago, where some of the best cooking happens in firehouses, Saturday means corned beef and cabbage for lunch.
7am. A 20 pound slab of corned beef is rubbed with an array of spices, allspice, mustard seeds, coriander ginger cloves peppercorns cardamom. Then it’s tucked, into a large roasting pan covered in 3 cans of Guinness, tightly sealed with aluminum foil and roasted at 325 degrees for 4 hours.
When the Saturday crew returns to the firehouse Tuesday morning, leftover corned beef is hacked up for a corned beef hash breakfast.
Yeah, I could join the fire department right now. Except for the fires.
At home, you’d use a couple pounds of corned beef with the spice packet that comes with it in a slow cooker partially covered in water and a splash of Guinness. Keep it on low for 5 hours or so until it’s melt in your mouth tender. Remember the corned beef will shrink by a third. Yes. Meat can shrink in hot water. And by all that is holy, let the beef cool before you slice it.
A good reason to make a little extra is everyone on your block is going to smell it. The aroma is both intoxicating and pervasive.
There are some things I can never resist. Bagpipes on a foggy beach. A golden retriever puppy. And Corned Beef served with mustard and horseradish. A side of cabbage, potatoes, and carrots that have been simmered with the corned beef and anointed with butter.
My next meal cannot come soon enough.
Happy St. Patrick's Day.