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corned beef and cabbage

Jiggs: Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage (a.k.a. New England Boiled Dinner)

"If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks." Brendan Behan

Corned Beef And Cabbage is the tradition on St. Patrick's Day, an event that, to me, is more about our common immigrant stories that about being Irish. Irish Americans share their remarkable tale with Jews, Italians, Germans, Cubans, and Mexicans. So many of us can trace our heritage to fearful, ragged, tired, and poor arriving on our shores with not much more than the clothes on their back, life in hovels, hard labor, discrimination, acclimation, acculturation, and success. That's why we are all Irish in some way.

Surprisingly, Corned Beef And Cabbage is not a tradition in Ireland. It is an Irish-American-Jewish tradition. Corned pork and cabbage is more common in the Emerald Isles where beef was scarce and expensive. But Irish immigrants in the US found beef more plentiful in their lower Manhattan ghettos where the butchers were mostly kosher Jews and pork was verboten.

In diners slang between waitress and cook, the dish is called jiggs. In some quarters the dish and variations is called New England Boiled Dinner. The concept is that corned meat, which is meat that has been pickled in a strong brine or salty rub with spices, needs to be desalinated before eating. But all that salt can be used to enhance potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnips, etc.

Traditional on St. Patrick's Day, it is a shame the dish not served more often, and my guess is that is because people just take the meat out of the wrapper and throw it in a pot with water and veggies and potatoes and they feel they have met their obligation. But everything is soooooo salty, the meat is tough and fatty, and the veggies and potatoes are mushy.

Here's how to do the dish properly. If you have leftovers, make Rockin' Reuben Sandwiches, Corned Beef Hash, or throw it on your smoker and make my Close To Katz's Pastrami. But if you do it right, there won't be leftovers.

Makes. 6 servings (the meat shrinks a lot)

Preparation time. 10 minutes

Cooking time. 3 to 4 hours

Ingredients

3 pounds of corned beef, preferably home made

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1" segments

2 pounds of potatoes, cleaned and cut into 2" chunks

1 small head of cabbage, outer leaves removed, cut in quarters

A good idea. While the meat is cooking, mix up some of my Secretariat Horseradish Sauce and refrigerate for at least two hours to let the flavors marry. Serve it on the side as a dipping sauce.

Optional. You can add an onion and garlic and in Eastern Europe, caraway seeds are popular.



Preparing corned beef for sandwiches or other dishes

Corned beef comes in two forms:

(1) Uncooked corned beef is usually a hunk of beef that is in a brine solution of curing salts, regular salt, and pickling spices. It is then packaged in a sturdy plastic bag with some of the brine. It is very salty and has not been cooked.

(2) Cooked and ready to eat corned beef is cured in a brine with curing salts, regular salt, and pickling spices, then cooked, and usually packaged in slices or sliced at the deli counter. Just open the package and eat.

If you made corned beef from scratch, or if you bought a package of uncooked corned beef, you can prep it for making Close to Katz's Pastrami, corned beef's ultimate expression. To do that, skip the steps below and click the link. To use it for Rockin Reuben Sandwiches, for corned beef and cabbage, or for corned beef hash, you must remove some of the salt and cook it before eating it. Here's how:

1) Open the package the meat came in and dump out all the liquid. If you have made your own corned beef, remove it from the brine. Rinse thoroughly. Some packages have some pickling spices in a packet. It is a joke. There is nowhere near enough to do anything useful and if the meat has been corned properly, there is more than enough flavor in it. Besides, if you follow the instructions on the packet and don't change the water, the spices will just find a way to get stuck in your teeth. Throw them out. Some cuts have a thick layer of fat on the surface of one side, called a fat cap. Trim it all off. This fat is not like marbling in beef. It brings nothing to the party but calories and it just makes scum. If you bought the point section of a brisket, there is probably a layer of meat, a layer of fat, and another layer of meat. Trim off the surface fat and leave the center fat layer intact. It will be easy to remove after it is cooked.

2) Place the meat in a large pot along with enough hot water to cover it by at least 1" and put the lid on. Turn the heat to medium low, bring it to a simmer and then simmer for 30 minutes. If you boil it, it will get tough and shrink. Beware that the meat is cold, so when it warms the water will slowly move from simmer to boil. Keep an eye on it and try not to let it boil.

3) After 30 minutes of simmering, dump out the water and cover the meat with fresh hot water, again about 1" above the meat. Bring to a low simmer again, this time for 3 hours or until it is about 190°F or fork tender. Some really cheap cuts will never get tender (and that's why it is best to make your own). Keep the meat submerged even if you have to weight it down with a small plate.

4) About 1 hour before dinnertime, add the carrots and potatoes. They will need an hour to get tender, depending on how thick you cut them. After 30 minutes add the cabbage. If you want to add onions and garlic to flavor the soup, do it now.

5) Remove the meat and place it on a carving board. If you got the point section, there are often two horizontal muscles with a thick layer of fat between them. Separate them by sliding a knife through the fat. Carve and/or scrape off the fat layer. Carve the meat by cutting across the grain about the thickness of a pencil. Any thinner and it will fall apart, any thicker and it will be chewy. Carve with the grain and you will have difficulty chewing.

6) Lift out the cabbage, potatoes, and carrots and divide them into serving bowls. Place the meat in the bowl. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over them and serve.

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