Though I’ve lived in Texas long enough and eaten enough breakfast tacos to feel like an honorary Texan, I was not born in the Lone Star State. I grew up in the northeast, where St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal. There is a mad dash to the grocery store for green food coloring (spoiler alert: green mayo does not make a turkey sandwich more festive, but thanks for giving it a try, Mom!), and most importantly, corned beef.
As delicious as it may be, corned beef and cabbage is not really a traditional Irish St. Patrick’s Day dinner, but rather a transformation of Irish dishes by immigrants using ingredients that were accessible and affordable to them in America. And what luck for us as their ancestors and fellow countrymen, because we have adopted one of the greatest, most versatile foods as our shared, albeit new holiday tradition.
Corned beef is brined beef brisket, so not so far from being a Texas tradition after all! The whole brisket is soaked in a salted and spiced mixture, which flavors and preserves the meat. Corned beef is often pink from the use of commercial curing salts, similar to cured hams. Like all brisket, corned beef can be roasted, smoked, or braised until it is tender and succulent. It is often braised in water or broth with the pickling spices, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, which are all served together with plenty of mustard and Irish soda bread.
I like a semi-traditional preparation, choosing to braise the corned beef in a rich beef stock and then roast the vegetables separately, with just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s more flavorful overall, but I also think it makes for the best leftovers—and leftovers are really why I make corned beef and cabbage in the first place.
My second favorite St. Patrick’s Day leftover is a Reuben sandwich: sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut (double for me, please), and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread, griddled in butter until the bread is crisp, the cheese is melted, and everyone is drooling.
And yes, if you can believe it, even that basically perfect food is still not #1! For me, the absolute best St. Patrick’s Day leftover is the corned beef hash. I grew up in the land of diners, where corned beef hash was diced corned beef, often from a can, mixed with diced boiled potatoes, and maybe some onions. It wasn’t great, but I saw the potential.
Day-after-St. Patrick’s Day corned beef hash is a horse of a different color. Roughly chop your corned beef, cabbage, and other veggies. Heat a skillet over high heat and add a little oil, butter, or bacon fat, if you really want to go for it.
Add all of your chopped leftovers and cook them hot and fast, stirring just occasionally, until everything is seared all over. Add about 1/4 cup of the leftover corned beef cooking liquid per serving to the pan and let it reduce and get a little saucy. If you can resist eating from the pan over the stove, a runny egg and a few dashes of hot sauce make it next level.
Laura Monroe ’12 is the Foodies Editor at the CIA