Sláinte Mhaith! The Secret Behind a 25 Year Tradition!


Corned Beef & Cabbage for St. Paddy’s Day

For at least twenty-five years, I’ve made a tradition of cooking corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. Not just because of the Irish in me. But more as a rallying point for Spring after a long bout with old man winter.

And so, I thought that on this year’s celebration of The Green, I thought it fitting that I share my recipe in case you want to share in some of the warmth.

Nothing says Spring like a warm plate of corned beef braised in Guinness and some hearty, crunchy vegetables on the side.

That’s right, I said CRUNCHY. For about half of those 25 years the Corned Beef I made was about as tasty as damp cardboard. And, the vegetables were so mushy, they could pass for strained baby food beets.

When I finally discovered ways to overcome these problems, it developed into my secret Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner – made for as many as 30 people, but mostly enjoyed by just close family and close friends.

The secret in “secret recipe” is simple and has three main components:

  1. Remove the Corned Beef from the package and immediately throw the little plastic bag of “seasonings” away. They’re as bland as canned soup and are best used for compost.

  2. Cook the vegetables in a separate pot. “One pot” Corned Beef and Cabbage is a mythical beast at best.

  3. Guinness and Brown Sugar! I learned the benefits of this fine Irish stout in my wayward youth. Even made the trip to St. James Gate in Dublin. Back in my alcoholic days, I spent weekends shooting pool, drinking voluminous pints of Guinness, smoking non-filtered camels, and washing it all down with shots of tequila. I’m either going to live to be a hundred, or my liver is going to fall out any minute.

Cook’s Notebook #1: Don’t forget to buy your Guinness BEFORE the day you plan on cooking. In Puritan New York State we’re still living under laws that prohibit the purchase of alcohol … even for cooking purposes … prior to 8:00 a.m. I’ve made the jaunt to Wegman’s early on a Sunday Morning to get last minute ingredients and found my self thwarted by these antiquated laws.

So let’s start with the Corned Beef:

I’ve used a slow cooker many times. Particularly for large groups, but frankly, I find that “slow cookers” – like many “labor saving devices” actually save little time and tend to get one out of the kitchen, where all good cooks should be along with their guests, kids and family. My number one ingredient for cooking is to not do it alone. Get the family back into the kitchen.

Some of my fondest memories are of cooking with my step-daughter Clare on Thursday nights when her Mom had meetings. Bonding over food is a real way to build memories that last long after the last dish is washed.

So I use a combination stove and oven braising.

Cook’s Notebook #2: Don’t forget to put a cookie sheet under the pot in case it boils over. Cleaning baked on beer out of an oven is about as much fun as shaving with a dry razor.

The basis for great CB&C is the stout and brown sugar. Pure and simple. It’s good for the beef. Good for vegetables. And good for the cook.

Here’s what you need for the Corned Beef:

  • A Hearty Brisket of Corned Beef

  • A Tablespoon of Pickling Spice

  • ¼ Cup of Brown Sugar

  • Half a Spanish Onion

  • Head of Garlic, Halved

  •  Rinse the Brisket well and pat dry. Place in an ample pot. Combine A Bottle of Guinness and the Brown Sugar and add to pot along with Spice, Onion and Garlic. Pour in enough Guinness to nicely cover the ingredients.

Bring to a simmering boil (watch the pot so it doesn’t boil over!).

Place in pre-heated oven at 300° (don’t forget the cookie sheet) for 4 to 6 hours depending on the size of your Brisket. Turn it over once during cooking.

When the corned beef is done, remove and set aside. I cover it loosely to keep it warm or put it back into the oven with it “off” to accomplish the same.

Reserve the liquid though – it’s going to be great for cooking the veggies.

Now for the Vegetables:

  • A nice Head of Cabbage sliced into wedges

  • Several Carrots

  • As Many Potatoes as you are of a mind to eat. I like to use the small reds

  • Parsley

I cook the vegetables separately. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you pop potatoes or cabbage into a slow cooker and put it on low for 8 hours what’s going to be the result. More mush than the Iditarod Sled Dog races.

So get the Corned underway early and take time to prep the vegetables after you slide the meat into the oven. That way, as the day wears on -- and presumably you are oiling the palate with more Guinness -- when the time comes to cook the veggies, you won’t cut your hand off.

Put some oil in a wide pot big enough to boil all the veggies and carefully brown the cabbage on both sides. Takes about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the carrots and potatoes and cover the whole thing with the reserved cooking liquid. Cook on a low heat and remove the cabbage after about 7 or 10 minutes. Add to your warming corned beef. Cook the carrots and potatoes until done having tested with a  fork -- about 5 to 10 minutes. Maybe a bit longer.

Drain and add the chopped parsley. Plate it up and there you have it.

Cook’s Notebook #3: Just to be sure, I liberally spread more Guinness in glasses with a few shots of Irish Whisky to my guests so that no matter how the Corned Beef and Cabbage turns out, they don’t really care.

 Sláinte mhaith!