Corned Beef season is officially upon us and it's time to get your Irish on!
Enjoying corned beef is synonymous with classic St. Patrick's Day Irish celebrations EXCEPT that it really isn't. Huh?? Yup, that's right! The tradition of eating corned beef- baked and smothered in a mustard glaze or boiled with carrots, potatoes and cabbage in a vinegary-brothy bath is more of an American tradition that grew out of a comingling of cultures when Irish and Eastern Jewish immigrants landed in NY and shared neighborhoods and butchers with each other.
The Irish historically were not known for eating beef, but instead were pork lovers. Beliefs dating back to ancient Gaelic times regarded cows as sacred, and while milk and dairy products were consumed in abundance, beef consumption was reserved for the wealthy. In the mid 1600's the Brit's changed that with the Cattle Acts, importing huge amounts of beef to Ireland and flooding the market. The Irish, with a countryside of British cattle and access to LOTS of high quality inexpensive salt quickly honed their beef salting skills and developed into master Corned Beef makers- exporting their beefy goods to hungry eaters across Europe and even the Americas. Demand soared and beef continued to remain too expensive for the average Irishman's plate.
New to America, Irish immigrants, more accustomed to eating pork, but with an appetite for beef and no wallet power to purchase it- quickly found their fates reversed when they settled into Jewish neighborhoods- with pork and bacon being more expensive or unavailable and thus gladly turned to beef! Kosher Butchers with an abundance of brisket happily sold Irish customers the popular cut to make their famous corned beef and hence the Irish American tradition of consuming Corned Beef Brisket for St. Patty's Day was born!
While the tradition of salting beef dates back thousands of years, the term "corned" specifically arose from the British Cattle Acts and refers to the Germanic word kurnman or "small seed". Sometime during the17th century, the practice of salting beef officially became known as corned beef by the English due to the large "kernels" of rock salt used to preserve it.
Today enjoying corned beef for St. Patrick's Day is a beloved Irish American tradition and the best part- it's easy to prepare. Great corned beef starts with great brisket. After you have secured a high quality piece of brisket (or top or bottom round beef cut), you only need a few simple ingredients including high quality salt, kitchen space and time. It's always better to prepare your own or purchase direct from a butcher that makes their own, like we do to avoid all the weird fillers, preservatives and excess sodium that's in the commercial version.
Ready to tackle making your own homemade corned beef?? Here's a simple method to get you a deliciously seasoned piece of corned beef that can be used in your favorite recipe!
For the pickling spices
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 9 whole cardamom pods
- 6 large bay leaves, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
For the brine
- 1 gallon (3.8 liters) water
- 300g kosher salt (2 cups of Diamond Crystal brand Kosher Salt OR 1 cup 3 1/2 tablespoons of Morton's Kosher Salt)
- 5 teaspoons pink curing salt, optional, see Recipe Note
- 3 tablespoons pickling spices
- 1/2 cup (90g) brown sugar
For the brisket
- 1 (5- 7 pound) beef brisket (or top or bottom round)
1-2 tablespoons pickling spices
Step 1- Mix Pickling Spices
Flavor step: toast large and seeded spices in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and crush with a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back of a spoon.
**To save time and money I recommend purchasing our Corned Beef Spice Kit (which comes ready to go- so you can skip this step) or use store bought pickling spices if that's what you have on hand. Either will do!
Step 2- Make the BrineCombine 3 tablespoons of spice mix, plus half a cinnamon stick to 1 gallon of water in a large pot with kosher salt, pink salt and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Refrigerate brine solution until well chilled. Depending upon the size of the meat you will need to plan to make 1-3 gallons of brine solution.
**NOTE: Salt matters in this recipe! Kosher salt is preferred because it has a flatter crystal shape and is less dense than table salt, making it easier to dissolve in a wet brine. Pink Salt, aka sodium nitrate is toxic if consumed raw, and while not essential is what will give your corned beef its classic pink/red color.