Greetings from a very wet Boston. This rain sucks – our ceiling is leaking…and it drips on me every so often.
My last dinner home involved one of my favorite things: corned beef. I’ve been on a corned beef and pastrami bender lately, and this topped it off really nicely. Like many Americans, we made corned beef and cabbage in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This only begs the question: Is corned beef and cabbage a traditional Irish dish? Well, not technically. It’s as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs is Italian: sure, spaghetti and meatballs are rooted in traditional Italian cuisine – but not served together (if you really want to get into it, spaghetti is typically enjoyed doused in a good olive oil, not tomato sauce…but I digress). Here’s my understanding of the corned beef phenomenon: Corned beef is quite traditionally Irish in and of itself. Back in the day, cows were prized for their milk, and weren’t often killed for their meat. However, when they were, the brisket was brined for days and then boiled. The meat was then served with potatoes or other vegetables, but not cabbage. So, when did the cabbage come in? Well, there’s another traditional Irish dish consisting of bacon and cabbage. A large hunk of bacon was boiled for a long period of time and then served up with cabbage. When Irish immigrants came to the US, they looked for the same bacon meat they used to make this dish, but to no avail. They found that the Jewish immigrants’ corned beef tasted rather like their bacon, and had a similar texture. Thus, corned beef and cabbage.
As with many foods in this culture, corned beef and cabbage is an immigrant improvisation. And it’s so, so delicious.
While corned beef is traditionally brined for a few days before cooking, we sort of decided to have this on reeeeally short notice, so brining wasn’t an option. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious. It was salty, beefy, and fell apart. I don’t know how to describe it, other than…it was delicious corned beef. Side note: why “corned”, you ask? Well, brining it involved rubbing it in tons of salt. The salt would take the shape of corn kernels, so there you go.
I’m not sure I’ll bother with posting a recipe, as we used the prepackaged meat. Essentially, after brining the meat, you simmer it in a stockpot for 2 1/2-3 hours so it gets really tender. During the last 20 or 30 minutes of the cooking, throw in your carrots, potatoes, and cabbage. For this, we used about 6 or 7 medium to small carrots, 5 red potatoes, and 1 medium head of cabbage.
My mom also made some delicious Irish Soda Bread from scratch earlier that day. It was a bit of a marathon baking day, as she was making batches upon batches of cookies for the school she works at (I had the pleasure of being the official tester/cookie dough eater). The bread had the most crispy crust and yet a delicate, not too dry interior. Irish Soda Bread gets extremely dry if not done well. I wish I had room in my suitcase to take a chunk of it (as well as some cookies) back with me.
Irish Soda Bread as adapted from here
4 cups flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 tbsp. butter
1 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk * the original recipe calls for 2 cups, but a correction was made
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then stir in raisins.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf.
4. Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet. Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about 1/2” deep in an “X” shape. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife, about 40 minutes. Transfer bread to a rack to let cool briefly. Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted.
We baked our bread for about 35 minutes because the outside of the bread started to look a little too brown, but I guess it depends on how evenly your oven cooks.
The night ended, as all nights should, with a cannoli from a local Italian bakery. And I’ve come full circle. Break started and ended with an excellent cannoli.
So, I have relatively no food here with the exception of pasta and some leftovers. Perhaps there will be a chicken or pasta dish somewhere during the week. Other than that, updates may be sparse….