Classic Corned Beef and Cabbage is one of our favorite food rituals, but it's a home-cooked dish that folks seem to struggle with! So, we're offering up some answers to the questions we get most often regarding this St. Patrick's Day staple!
Question: Um, what is corned beef?
Answer: Fair question! Corned beef is cured brisket. The brisket is a cut of beef from the chest of a cow that is typically dry and tough, but benefits from low and slow cooking. Cured means that the beef has been soaked in a salty brine, with the addition of curing salts (called nitrates) that are responsible for the pink color and distinct flavor of corned beef.
Question: What is the difference between the pointy corned beef and the flat corned beef?
Answer: Prepared corned beef can be purchased typically as either the flat, the point, or a whole brisket. The flat is leaner, which is good for slicing (more meat than fat), but some people believe it to be less flavorful. If you cook the point, you will have flavorful, rich meat, but plenty of fat to carve around, which means less yield.
Question: Do you have a corned beef recipe?
Answer: Duh, of course we do! Check it out here!
Question: Why is my corned beef always so dry and chewy?
Answer: Because the brisket is a naturally tough cut of beef, it needs special TLC to become tender and moist. Slow cooking at a low temperature gives the collagen in the meat time to become soft and gelatinous, which makes your meat tender. If your meat is dry or chewy, it's likely because it was cooked too hot and too fast. Of course, the meat will eventually dry out if it's cooked too long, so you want to keep an eye on it and stop cooking when the meat is perfectly tender.
Question: Does corned beef have to be boiled?
Answer: We like to say braised, since boiled implies a heavy bubble which is a less than ideal way to cook meat. Corned beef is a great meat to braise, because it's gentle and will keep the meat from becoming dry. However, it isn't the be-all-end-all of corned beef cookery.
You can cook corned beef in a smoker, just like you would an uncured brisket, if that's something you're into. You can roast corned beef, but it would be wise to keep it covered or wrapped for a good part of the cooking time, to help keep it from becoming dry. In this case, though, you'll really want to go low and slow. 250°F is a good place to start, keeping in mind that you're looking at a full day of cooking ahead of you.
Question: Is there anything I can do about these boring boiled veggies?
Answer: Heck yeah! Boiled vegetables are sort of a snooze, even if the ones that come out of your corned beef pot tend to be nice and salty and tasty. We're big fans of the double St. Patrick's Day veggie situation: put carrots and potatoes in your corned beef braise for the people who like that style, and then make a second batch that you roast until they're golden brown. On a separate sheet pan, roast cabbage that you've sliced about 1/2-inch and tossed with thinly sliced onion, oil, salt, and pepper, until it's charred around the edges. It's our favorite accompaniment to the main item!
Question: I always make too much corned beef. What can I do with leftovers?
Answer: Like Thanksgiving dinner, corned beef and cabbage is really all about the leftovers. Use sliced corned beef to make Reuben sandwiches, stuffed into omelets, or as the base of a shephard's pie. Toss cubed corned beef into soup with lots of greens, folded into a potato filling for homemade pierogis, or stuffed into a baked potato with lots of green onions and melty cheese.
We also love chopping up some corned beef and leftover veggies and searing them in a super hot skillet. They'll get brown and caramelized, and then we serve them as a hash with a runny egg!