Friday, March 7, 2014
I won’t be donning shamrocks, double-dipping into kegs of beer or hoping that the Maine legislature will allow bars to open at 6AM on Sunday, March 17th, breaking a sacred blue law, but what I will be doing to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day is to prepare corned beef and cabbage.
In local parlance it’s the tastiest kind of New England boiled dinner. Here the beef is “corned,” which is basically a brining mixture into which the meat cures anywhere from 5 days to many weeks, even months.
Out of the pot, the corned beef will be glazed and ready for its accoutrements
Jared Spangler at Rosemont’s Brighton Ave. butcher shop brines his brisket for nearly three weeks in a water bath of salt, sugar, pickling spices, garlic and black pepper before it’s ready. He uses meat from Caldwell Farm and is priced at $9.99 per pound.
This year my corned beef came from Bisson’s in Topsham. They use bottom round for their corned beef and cure it for several months. Whole Foods is also stocking several corned beef from different purveyors, most notably from Pineland Farms.
Keeping the dish totally local, all the vegetables that go into the boiled dinner are still available at the winter farmers’ markets. Potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, onions and cabbage are the usual suspects. Add beets (cooked separately) so you can make red flannel hash from the leftovers
Prepare the serving vegetables and keep in a bowl of water until needed
You’ll need about three to four hours of cooking time, the first hour of which needs some watching, but it’s important to keep the cooking liquid at a steady low simmer with the pot covered.
There is some debate as to whether to cook the serving vegetables in the same water in which the beef cooked or to prepare them separately. I see no need not to put them into the cooking liquor to soak up all that brine flavor.
The finished corned beef is removed from the pot after it's cooked, surrounded by the aromatics and moistened with some cooking liquid while you cook the fresh vegetables
Finally the finished dish surrounded by the accompanying vegetables
The best part? Leftovers for corned beef hash. I use a square biscuit cutter to chop all the leftovers to assemble in a heavy frying pan that's coated with canola oil and lard and to cook slowly and moistened with chicken stock until a nice crust forms underneath. At the end you can put it under the broiler for a crisp top
I like to glaze the beef with mustard after it’s cooked and then cook the vegetables in the pot without the meat. If you choose not to do this, add the vegetables when the meat is almost fork tender and continue to cook until the vegetables are done, putting them into the pot in stages, the cabbage and onions last.
Corned beef and cabbage
Servings: 4 to 6
Take a 3 to 4 pound corned beef and put into a large stock pot. Cover with cold water by at least two inches and bring to the simmer, partially covered, over medium-high heat, skimming off any scum that comes to the top.
Once it’s reached the initial simmer add the aromatics: one large unpeeled onion studded with 2 cloves, several carrots cut into chunks, several stalks of celery, cut into chunks, a few sprigs parsley and about 5 black peppercorns. Bring back to the simmer, cover the pot completely and cook at a gentle simmer for about 2 ½ hours to 3 hours, checking the pot every 15 to 20 minutes to maintain the right temperature.
Meanwhile prepare the vegetables that will be served with the beef. The amounts depend on your preference but peel and trim several carrots, 4 to 5 potatoes, peeled and left whole, 1 rutabaga peeled and cut into chunks, 2 to 3 parsnips, peeled and cut in half and 1 head cabbage, outer tough leaves removed and cut into quarters or eighths. Prepare white boiling onions by plunging them first into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute and remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Slip off skins and set aside until ready to cook.
When the meat is fork tender, remove it to a platter with its cooking vegetables and moisten it with some of the cooking liquid. Cover until ready use. Otherwise, if you’re not glazing the meat, remove the cooking vegetables before adding the fresh batch for serving.
Bring the cooking liquid back to a lively simmer and add the potatoes, carrots, rutabagas and parsnips and cook for 10 to15 minutes, then add the cabbage to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes then add the onions during the last 5 to 10 minutes to cook them until tender. Check all the vegetables for doneness.
To glaze the beef, mix together 2 tablespoons brown sugar, with about 4 to 5 tablespoons Dijon mustard. Mix until it forms a nice sauce. Coat the meat with this and place the meat in a small roasting pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the glaze is set and the meat is warmed through.
Carve the meat, cutting against the grain and arrange on a platter surrounded by the vegetables.
Serve the hash with a poached egg
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.