While it’s not traditional in Ireland, corned beef is what most Americans prepare for St. Patrick’s Day feasts. Despite Ireland being a major beef producer during colonial times, most Irish did not regularly consume corned beef. This was due to the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British colonists and not by the Irish , and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported. The majority of Irish that resided in Ireland at the time maintained a diet of mainly dairy and pork.
During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, the United States experienced a tidal-wave of Irish immigration. With corned beef brisket being considered a ‘meal of luxury’ back in their home country, the corned beef became a staple in the Irish populations diet in America where it was inexpensive and plentiful. Thus the association with corned beef and St. Patrick’s day celebrations.
Cooking Corned Beef…
There are several methods that can be used to cook corned beef or any brisket. Some chef’s prefer to ‘split’ the brisket prior to cooking while others would cook the brisket whole, leaving the layer of fat that joins the two muscles together intact. Cooking a whole brisket will take much more time than if you separate the two sides of the brisket.
To split the brisket, lay it on a cutting board with the ‘non-fatted’ side facing up. Look for the ‘deckle’ or fat layer that separates the two sides of the brisket. This layer of fat extends fully between the two muscles. Insert a boning knife into the fat line and carefully run the sharp edge of the blade along that line while pulling back the ‘first cut’ of the corned beef. Continue this until you are completely through the deckle and the flat cut and point cut are apart. Trim away and discard any excess fat.
No matter which course you choose, the rule to follow when preparing corned beef is ‘low and slow’. A crock pot or slow cooker is the ideal appliance to prepare this cut of meat. A large stockpot will also work well. If you are using the stovetop method, fill a large stockpot half full with water and bring to a full boil. Add your brisket and reduce the heat to medium. Split brisket will take about 3 hours at a slight simmer, while whole briskets can take as long as 6 to 7 hours depending on the weight. Remember to save the brine for cooking your cabbage and other vegetables.
To test the ‘doneness’ of your brisket, remove a cut from your stockpot and slice a piece about a quarter inch thick, remembering to slice against the grain. Sample your brisket. It should be tender enough that you can bite through it without falling apart. If you can’t easily bite through the slice then it needs to cook a little longer. Check every fifteen minutes afterwards until you achieve the desired result. When you are ready to slice the brisket, cut each piece in half against the grain and take a piece of each muscle and slice together on a slicing machine against the grain.