The Irish in All of Us
Not all corned beef recipes are created equal. We’ve all had ‘just’ corned beef and we’ve all had ‘ok’ corned beef. But how many have had that juicy, tender corned beef that melts in your mouth? Well, the difference lies in cooking techniques and a few chosen ingredients.
The brisket (which becomes ‘corned’ beef after pickling), requires long slow cooking to break down the tough working muscle. A crockpot will do nicely or a large, heavy cast iron soup pot. I use my Le Crueset 7 qt. pot for all my braising, stewing and soup making. I like that it can hold lots of veggies to surround the meats and I also like the way it distributes heat evenly. It also can go into the refrigerator (after cooling) and then back onto the stove eliminating several dishwashing chores.
Next, I use only Guinness ale and water to cover the beef with. The dark Guinness gives the corned beef nice flavor and the alcohol tenderizes the roast as it cooks, much like using wine in a beef stew. (Yes, you can use Guinness in your beef stew for even better flavor!)
I add aromatic vegetables to the pot for the initial cooking period, removing them only before I add the vegetables that will be served alongside the meat. I use them to flavor the roast and the broth. Don’t cut them in small pieces or they will be tough to fish out when the time comes. You could also tie them in a cheesecloth (a bouquet garni) and then simply remove it before serving.
You’ll want to cook the meat slowly for a long period of time. Again the crockpot is ideal for this if you have a large enough one. Bring the corned beef and bouquet garni to a boil, skimming any foam that forms on the top. If you leave the foam some may sink down into the liquid and cause the beef to become bitter as it continues to cook. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to a slow simmer and cook for 45 minutes a pound. Hard-boiling will separate the muscle tissue and make the meat dry and stringy. Add the vegetables the last half hour of cooking and the cabbage the last 15 minutes.
For something different use Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage. I like to use the smaller ones cutting them in half so they cook a little faster. Add them at the same time you add the carrots and potatoes. If you don’t like cooked cabbage at all, serve some cole slaw on the side instead.