Corned beef brisket comes from the heavily exercised front limbs of the animal, making it a ‘tough’ cut of meat. When cooked properly this cut is tender, juicy and succulent.
While the purchase price for this cut of meat may be low, keep in mind that with a high fat to meat ratio combined with a long cooking time that you will usually yield a low 55% to 60% from your original package weight.
Corned Beef comes in two colors. First you have the red variety. By adding potassium nitrate (also known as saltpeter) to the brine, the light pink color of the brisket is preserved during the cooking process. Adding the saltpeter also extends the shelf life of the corned beef making it much more popular in delicatessans and sandwich shops.
The first corned beef was packed in salt, and sometimes spices, in order to preserve it. It got its name from the corn kernel sized grains of salt it was packed in. Today, corned beef is made by injecting a brisket with a brine of water, salt and spices.
In modern times, with high powered, efficient refrigeration, there is less of a need for salting the beef for preservation. Grey corned beef is now served in many restaurants as the ‘traditional Irish favorite’. While the cut of beef still must be cured with brine, Grey corned beef lacks the nitrates needed to retain the red color.
While it’s really 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.