Editor’s note: Kayleigh is on family leave following the birth of her daughter Laila Reè Baig on Dec. 6. We’ve been reprinting some of our favorite “In the Kitchen” columns while she is on leave, but this week we’ve got one from Laurie Nigro about corned beef, originally published March 10, 2013.
I was raised in a typical, large, close-knit, proud, Irish Catholic family; lots of cops, lots of kids and lots of parties, particularly for the most Irish holiday of them all, St. Patrick’s Day. I grew up in Miller Place, which is where one of Suffolk’s largest parades begins (it’s called the Rocky Point parade, but that’s just where it ends.)
As a child, I attended with my family, cheering loudly when the fire trucks blared their horns, and staring in amazement at the sheer size of the Irish Wolfhounds as they marched on leash. There were even a few years when I marched in the parade, waving happily as I passed everyone I knew. When I hit my teen years, plans were made with friends to meet up in front of the deli or at someones house that was walking distance to the parade. I did not miss this event until I was well into my 20s and work kept me away. I still remember the feeling of loss when I had to meet grown-up responsibilities and pass up this sacred March tradition.
On this day, we had all the Irish-American classics: corned beef, cabbage and fresh Irish soda bread. I’ve continued this tradition with my own family. As I changed our diet towards a more whole-foods base, I learned to make soda bread myself. First with whole wheat flour and then with flour I ground at home from organic wheat berries. Of course, last year we discovered that gluten is not welcome in our home, so I’ll be experimenting with some new recipes this year.
Then there’s the corned beef. For many years, I closed my eyes and picked up the squishy, translucent, plastic package of meat and placed it in my cart at the supermarket while silently chanting, “It’s only once a year, it’s only once a year…” It’s painful to think about the “farm” that the beef came from and what happened to it once it reached the processing stage.
But these items are important in my house. Spring doesn’t really begin for me until we’ve had a proper St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Though I’ve fallen away from catholicism, I consider this the unofficial beginning of spring, and a chance to proudly wear my heritage.
It turns out, making your own corned beef is really easy. With a little planning, I can use the brisket that came in my beef share and have my corned beef and cabbage, without the overwhelming guilt! It’s a simple (but five-day-long) process that is easy to find on numerous web sites.
Thanks to The City Cook for helping me keep my traditions while simultaneously being true to my values and beliefs about factory-farmed, processed junk food!
Now I’m off to work on a gluten-free version of grandma’s Irish whiskey cake…
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed into big pieces (use a spice grinder or crush with the bottom of a heavy fry pan)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon dried or fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 center cut fresh beef brisket, about 2 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat but with a thin layer of fat left on the meat; rinse and patted dry.
1. In a small bowl combine the salt, peppercorns, ground pepper, allspice, thyme, paprika and crumbled bay leaves.
2. With a sharp serving fork or the tip of a skewer, pierce the surface of the brisket about 25 to 30 times on both sides. This will help the salt rub penetrate the meat.
3. Place the brisket inside a large plastic bag that can be tightly sealed; a one gallon zipper-lock bag is perfect. Reaching through the opening, add all of the salt mixture and use your hands to rub it on all surfaces of the brisket.
4. Seal the plastic bag, pressing out any air as you do, and place it in a shallow baking pan or small sheet pan. Place on top of it one or two other baking dishes or other heavy objects like cans of tomatoes, thus weighing it down.
5. Refrigerate 5 days, turning the brisket, still in its sealed bag, over once a day. Within the first day you’ll see how the salt will pull liquid out of the beef, creating its own marinade liquid. If you let it cure for more than a week, the beef will not be spoiled but it may become excessively salty so try to not marinade for more than 7 days.
6. When you’re ready to cook the brisket, remove it from the refrigerator. Take it out of its plastic bag and rinse it completely.
7. Place the brisket in a large pot, fill the pot with cool water so to cover the beef by about an inch, and bring to a boil. Scum is likely to come to the surface and this should be skimmed off with a slotted spoon or mesh spider. Once the scum seems to have been completely removed (this can take 4 or 5 minutes), cover the pan, reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is completely tender and can be easily pierced with a skewer.
8. Drain completely and cut in thin 1/2-inch slices, cutting across the grain.
Laurie Nigro has a regular column every Sunday on RiverheadLOCAL. Her column has been recognized by the L.I. Press Club with a first-place award for Best Humor Column. She lives with her husband Brian and their two children in Riverhead.
What’s your favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition?
Write to Laurie: