Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Just in Time for St Patricks' Day: Potato Famine Dinner, Corned Beef and Cabbage
With St. Patricks' day this week many have made their corned beef and cabbage. For bargain hunters like me, we'll be having it next week after I scoop up a few briskets on post-holiday sales for the freezer. Such a versatile meal, it's amazing to me that you cannot find corned beef brisket in all stores year-round.
I decided to research how this dish came about. Unlike many forms of "poverty food" it centers around a pretty good cut of meat. Why?
In Jewish and Early-American history, the corned beef is a traditional spring celebration meal: To use the last of the cured meats from the previous year. It was even served at President Lincoln's spring-time inauguration dinner. (Historical note: Inaugurations used to be held on March 4th, but the 20th amendment in 1933 moved the date to January 21 unless the 21st fell on a Sunday.)
To my surprise, Corned Beef and Cabbage is not a traditional Irish dinner. It's traditional for Irish-American immigrants. The Irish were accustomed to something more traditional for them--a boiled pork "bacon joint" (cured, but not smoked ham). The Celts have long-prized cows for milk, and don't traditionally eat beef.
Upon arriving in America, Irish immigrants couldn't find "bacon joints" for their St. Patrick's day feasts, but found the Jewish corned beef to be sufficiently similar in texture, so adapted this for their St. Pat's feast.
Traditionally "corned beef and cabbage" is a boiled corned brisket (preserved in brine). After several hours of boiling, root vegetables and cabbage are added. You can add potatoes, cabbage, rutabaga, turnip, carrots, onion and celery. Most season this with a few bay leaves.
Boil until the vegetables are finished and serve with vinegar, sauerkraut and mustard.
Make lots! Corned Beef leftovers make a marvelous hash. Grind up everything and stir it around in a frying pan and serve for breakfast or dinner. Or, form into "burger patties" and make sandwiches (like a meatloaf sandwich).
At my house, the corned beef leftovers are actually more prized than the original dinner!
Sources: History: www.kitchenproject.com, photo credit www.wikipedia.org