While I was back in the US last week I was reminded that St. Patrick’s Day will be upon us in no time at all. Shiny shamrocks were taped to bar windows and at the grocery specials on corned beef were displayed near the meat cases. Although there are murmurs about the holiday here in London, it’s not nearly the celebration, parades and drinking and leprechauns, that it is back home. Oh, couldn’t I just smuggle a whole corned beef back to London in my luggage, I complained to my mother. Salt beef, the British equivalent, just doesn’t have the same flavor and texture. She didn’t think it was a particularly wise plan and instead suggested I just brine the beef myself. She had done this when we lived in Moscow, using her prized Elizabeth David earthenware crock to hold the beef while it marinated. I must admit to not remembering the beef itself, but I do remember her being quite pleased with the meal, so it must have been delicious. A new culinary project to tackle! Hurrah! And so it was off to my computer to research and plan.
I returned to London, to abruptly sunny warm weather on Sunday, ignored my paltry, restless sleep on the plane and insisted we hit the streets of Goldborne Road and Portobello Markets. My dear husband and I sat at a table outside and ate brunch, daffodill-colored scrambled eggs with avocado and toast. As we caught up on all we’d done while apart the week before, I outlined my St. Patrick’s Day corned beef plan with all of the family history that accompanies my love of this recipe, and he smiled, once more amused by my intense love and associations for particular dishes, I fear.
Corned beef with cabbage was a speciality of my mother’s mother, Elma, who like all of us, wasn’t particularly Irish, but a northern European mutt who took her little piece of Irishness as an excuse to make a big fuss for dinner on March 17th every year. However, smart lady that she was, she didn’t limit herself to preparing this one pot marvel only in mid-March. Given how easy it is to make, why not make this delicious boiled dinner for any occasion, especially during the colder months? I requested this meal for my birthday, several years running. I would eat more than my share of the pink, honeycombed brisket with lashings of horseradish cream. My dad made it one year, and his Russian Wolfhound (whose nose was at counter-height) snatched the cooling slab of beef off the counter with one sneaky swoop of his long nose and swallowed it whole. I’ve rarely seen my father so disconsolate.
Butchers are closed here on Sunday (mostly) so on Monday morning I rang up Sheepdrove Organic in Maida Vale, whose grass-fed beef is always delicious, and requested 4 pounds of beef brisket for my project which I’d pick up at lunchtime. Meanwhile, I prepared a spice mixture and tried to find a suitable container to hold all of it in the fridge (I have a catering gig this weekend so space in my tiny European fridge is at a premium). Coincidentally, I had bought pink curing salt at Williams Sonoma when I was home at Christmas (I have no idea what I planned on doing with it, but it seemed like something I should have in my pantry) and while it’s not crucial for the recipe, I’ve read that it is what turns the beef that lovely rosy color and adds a bit of je ne sais quois to the end result. I had the butcher trim most of the fat off of the gorgeous flat beef and hurried home to put my project together.
Just as I’d placed the beef into the plastic container and filled it to the brim with the brining liquid, my darling husband announced that I absolutely had to accompany him to Amman, Jordan right after my catering job Saturday, because his parents were not satisfied with him visiting them alone. He went online and booked my ticket for Sunday morning at the crack of dawn and so my fantasies of a St. Patrick’s Day boiled dinner next Monday faded away, and with them the blog I wanted to write for those of you who might want to try it yourself. Hence, I’m writing up the entire process including the final recipe without photos of the final product (I know the boiled dinner recipe will work without trying it again because it’s perfection). I’ve since researched more and found that my corned beef won’t be ruined by sitting in the brine longer than the required 5-7 days. Apparently it simply stops the brining process on its own after it reaches a certain point. So, instead of bemoaning my lack of corned beef on March 17th, I’ll have to think about what a delectable treat we have waiting in the fridge to be cooked on March 23rd!
Corned Beef and Cabbage Boiled Dinner
to brine the beef:
4 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 ounces kosher salt
2 teaspoons pink curing salt (or just use regular)
4 tablespoons pickling spices (recipe below)
2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin on
In a large food-safe plastic container with a lid, dissolve the sugar and salts in 2 cups of very hot water. Now add 6 cups of cold water, the pickling spice mixture and garlic cloves, and stir. Submerge the beef in the brine and put on the lid, place in the fridge. Every day make sure to rotate the beef so that the ends are equally submerged. Brine for 5-7 days. Before cooking rinse thoroughly.
picking spice mixture:
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
3 cinnamon sticks, broken apart
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon mustard seeds, any color
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 bay leaves, smashed
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon cardamom pods, bashed (or 1 tablespoon pods)
1 tablespoon juniper berries
Mix all of the spices together in a bowl.
to make the boiled dinner:
your cured corned beef brisket
20 pearl or cippolini onions (you can use bigger ones, just quarter them, leaving the root end on so the pieces stay together while cooking)
5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
20 small new potatoes, red or white
8 baby turnips (optional)
1 head of white cabbage, cut into 8 wedges
Place the beef into a large pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the meat, dump out the water and replace it with fresh water, using a plate if necessary to keep the meat submerged. Simmer for 3 hours more (make sure not to let it boil or the meat will get tough).
Remove the meat and keep warm with a foil tent. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, and turnips to the cooking broth and cook for about 15 minutes, before they are knife tender. Now add the cabbage and cook for 5 more minutes. Carve the meat AGAINST the grain and place it in the middle of a huge platter surrounded by all of your beautiful vegetables. Serve the broth in a gravy boat on the side and also serve with horseradish cream sauce (recipe below)
horseradish cream sauce:
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more or less depending on your taste)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
pinch of salt and grinding of pepper
Mix everything together in a bowl until very well combined. Allow it to sit in the fridge covered for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to mingle.