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Tips from the Chef: Corned Beef & Cabbage

Traditional Irish recipe in celebration of St. Patrick's Day

If you’re looking for the luck of the Irish, the culinary team from Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, has some pointers! This St. Patrick’s Day, try your hand at making Corned Beef and Cabbage, a traditional Irish meal.

For starters, “corned beef” actually has nothing to do with corn! Corned beef received its name from the term “corn,” which was a broad term in history that generalized the word for grains or any small hard particles. The large grains of salt were used to cure the beef, hence the phrase “corned” beef. Modern day practices now inject the beef or submerge it into a liquid brine to allow for curing.

When making corned beef from scratch, the first step you should take is decide on what type of protein you would like to brine. Traditionally beef brisket is the chosen cut of meat that is used in making corned beef. You can “corn” anything but, I will explain more in detail using the traditional brisket. Beef brisket is a cut of meat from the lower chest of cattle. Since this muscle supports up to 60% of the cattle, the connective tissues are very strong and proper methods are needed to make sure the end product is tender. You can purchase a whole brisket or one that was cut in half. Generally a brisket is packaged in halves at major grocery stores. When purchasing a brisket for brining, you will see 2 different distinct shapes. A flat cut, which usually costs more, and a point cut that has a distinct point to it.

The point cut, also known as the thick cut, has a significant amount of marbling and internal pockets of fat. These add flavor but it has less actual meat. This is a very flavorful cut of meat and can be substituted for the flat cut of brisket if you do not mind the extra fat.

The flat cut is the prime choice for making corned beef and is very easy to slice and serve after being cooked and does not need any additional butchering prior to cooking. This is the leaner piece of the brisket but has an internal layer of fat that runs across the meat that helps it retain its moisture during the cooking process.

When you start to make the brine, personal customization can be done to attune to your desired tastes. For example, if you like a savory dish, more cinnamon and clove can be added. The following are basic ingredients that are added to flavor the brine when making corned beef and their characteristics:

  • Cinnamon – Sweet, Woody, Fragrant
  • Mustard Seed – Slight Heat, Bitterness
  • Black Peppercorn – Slight Heat, Sharp, Woody, Piney
  • Clove – Strong, Pungent, Sweet (cloves have the highest aroma out of all spices)
  • Allspice – Fragrant, Pungent, Woody (similar in aroma to a mixture of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg)
  • Juniper Berry – Piney, Green, Citrus
  • Bay Leaf – Floral, Eucalyptus, Clove notes
  • Ginger – Sweet, Woody, Floral, Eucalyptus, Mild Pepper Notes

When first attempting to brine, I suggest following the recipe to understand the process and flavor profile before you start to experiment altering the recipe. The following is a basic recipe for brining corned beef. If you do not want to brine your own beef, skip to the second recipe.

Corned Beef
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Special items that will be needed: 2 - 2 gallon zip-top bag (good quality), 6-8 quart stock pot, plenty of refrigerator space, 5-6 lbs piece of brisket

1 gallon water
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons pink curing salt (found online – use prague powder or instacure)
2 tablespoons garlic (minced)
2 tablespoons pickling spice

In the stockpot, place all of the brine ingredients and bring to a simmer while periodically stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from the heat and let sit until room temperature, then refrigerate until the brine reaches a temperature of 41F or below. Place one of the zip-top bags inside the other, folding the inner zip-top bags edge over the outside edge of the outer bag. Place the brisket into the inner zip-top bag and pour the brine over top. Seal the inner bag halfway and try to remove any excess air and seal the rest of the way. Seal the outer bag and place into a tray and refrigerate. The brisket should be covered completely by the brine. Flip bag every 24 hours and make sure the brisket remains submerged. After 5 days, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse under cool running water.

Pickling Spice (A pickling spice blend can be substituted but may have a different flavor profile)
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 stick of cinnamon (broken into several pieces)
2 each bay leaves (crumble)
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger

Place all ingredients into a sauté pan and toss over a medium low heat until they become aromatic. Remove from heat to cool then store in an airtight container.

Corned Beef & Cabbage
1 each 5-6lb Corned Beef (See recipe or store bought)
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup white onion (large dice)
½ cup carrot (large dice)
½ cup celery (large dice)
1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
4 cups cabbage

Rinse the corned beef and pat dry. In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat and sear the brisket until caramelized on all sides. Remove brisket from the pot and set aside. Add vegetables and slightly caramelize. Place brisket back into pot and spoon the vegetables on top. Add enough water to just cover the brisket and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and continue simmering until the brisket is tender (approximately 50 minutes per pound.) More liquid can be added to the pot if needed during this process to compensate for evaporation. When the meat is tender, remove from the pot and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Remember to slice against the grain for optimal tenderness.

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