By Rosie Hawthorne on March 1, 2012
The Irish have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for over a thousand years. Observed on March 17, the date of Patrick’s death, St. Patrick’s Day honors the patron saint of Ireland with a feast day. The holiday was first established as a religious celebration and a time of spiritual renewal.
Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would drink and feast on the traditional Irish meal of bacon and cabbage. Cabbage has been a staple in the Irish diet for centuries.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century that corned beef became associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Originally, quality Irish bacon was served with cabbage. The first Irish immigrants in the United States could not afford bacon, so they substituted the cheaper corned beef.
This trend caught on, and now the standard dish at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations is corned beef and cabbage.
Corned beef is beef that has been cured or pickled in a brine, which is simply salt water. In the days before refrigeration, the meat was dry-cured in pellets, or “corns,” of salt, some the size of kernels of corn, to preserve it and keep it from spoiling.
St. Patrick’s Day is a day for celebrating the legacy of St. Patrick and Irish history, tradition, culture, heritage, and solidarity. On Saint Patrick’s Day, everybody gets to be a little bit Irish.
So, put on some green, and follow Rosie into the kitchen for a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal – corned beef brisket, colcannon, and Irish Raisin Soda Bread. All eyes, Irish or not, will be smiling at your table.
First, let’s talk brisket. What is a brisket? It’s the chest muscle of the cow. Your butcher receives the whole brisket and usually cuts it into the point cut and the flat cut.
Since the brisket gets a good workout, it’s going to be tough, but also very flavorful. A well-exercised muscle has thicker muscle fibers and more connective tissues than a “lazier” cut, say a tenderloin. Because of this, a tougher cut needs to be cooked differently from a tender cut.
Meats are made up of muscle fibers, fat, connective tissue, and water. When you cook meat, the muscle fibers shrink as the fat melts out and the water evaporates. That means you’re losing both flavor and moisture, but the heat helps to dissolve the tough connective tissues.
When you cook a brisket, you need to find a balance — you need to cook the brisket long enough to break down muscle fibers and connective tissues, but not so long that the meat dries out.
The best method of doing this is braising. Braising is a technique in which meats are simmered in a pan with liquid. The pan is covered and the resultant steam bath gently cooks the meat. Boiling the meat happens at 212 degrees. Braising occurs around 185 degrees, so you can braise meat longer since it doesn’t cook as quickly and this gives it more time to tenderize.
Originally, corned beef was boiled to leach out the saltiness, but the salt and flavor ended up in the water. In braising, some of the saltiness is released into the water, but the muscle fibers are relaxed enough to reabsorb the braising liquid, along with the flavor. I braise my brisket for 3 hours. After each hour, I pour out the water and refresh it. This way, you get rid of a lot of the saltiness, but retain the flavor.
Rosie’s Corned Beef Brisket
4 pound brisket, flat cut, trimmed of fat, rinsed and patted dry
4 TB brown sugar, packed
2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients and really work the spice mix into the meat. Place the brisket in a baking dish and carefully pour enough cold water to come halfway up the side of the brisket. Do not pour the water over top and wash off the rub. Cover the brisket with foil and place into a 350° oven. Cook for 1 hour.
After one hour, remove from oven and pour out liquid. Let the baking dish cool a bit before you add in fresh water halfway up the brisket. Cover and return to the oven for another hour. After the second hour, remove from oven, pour out water, and refresh again halfway up. Cover and return to the oven for the third and last hour.
Make the glaze:
½ cup brown sugar, packed
4 TB soy sauce
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground ginger
After the third hour, remove brisket, pour off cooking liquid, and brush with glaze. Return the brisket to a 450° oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
Next, I’m making colcannon, a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. This dish is also associated with the harvest and would be served on All Saint’s Day, or Halloween, but it’s good enough to be served any time.
Historically, the colcannon would be made in a little three-legged pot, known as a Bastable oven. It looked like a cauldron with legs and it was set over a fire and used as an oven to bake colcannon, bread, and other dishes.
When I made my colcannon, I resisted the temptation to hide small choking hazards inside the dish. According to tradition, trinkets are hidden in the colcannon for folks to find. Symbols of good fortune, say a ring to symbolize marriage, or a coin to predict forthcoming wealth would be tucked in the colcannon. A button would represent bachelorhood and a thimble would predict spinsterhood.
2 medium potatoes (I used 16.8 ounces.)
¼ wedge of small cabbage (6.8 ounces)
½ medium onion, chopped (Didn’t weigh it.)
½ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped
Shred cabbage and add to boiling salted water. Reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until tender. About 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid for the potatoes. Cover the cabbage and keep warm.
Cube the potatoes and add to the boiling cabbage water. I rarely bother to peel my potatoes. I like peel. Cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. To test, stick a fork into a potato cube. If it slides off, it’s ready. Drain.
While the potatoes are cooking, chop the onion, combine with the cream, bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let steep for 15 minutes.
Mash potatoes, add in cream and onion mixture, then shredded cabbage. Mix well.
Mound a serving of colcannon on your plate, make a well, pour in a little melted butter,
and sprinkle sliced scallions, parsley, and maybe a shamrock or two over top. Shamrocks are edible, you know. They taste citrusy.
My last recipe is for Irish soda bread, so named because it uses baking soda as the leavening ingredient. Legend has it that the customary X-slash cut into the top before baking serves to ward off evil spirits. The sweet raisins in this bread are a nice contrast with the caraway seeds.
Mix first five ingredients in large bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender until you have coarse to pea-sized crumbs. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds
Set aside 1 tablespoon beaten egg for a wash.
In a small bowl, combine remaining eggs and buttermilk. Stir into flour mixture and mix until flour is just moistened. It will be a sticky dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead a bit. If the dough’s too sticky, lightly dust it with flour. Form into a ball.
Place in a buttered 9-inch round caking pan. Cut a 4-inch long, ¼-inch deep cross in the center of the ball. Brush the top with the reserved tablespoon of egg. Bake at 350° for 1 hour 15-20 minutes. After about 50 minutes, I loosely covered with foil. You don’t want the top to brown too quickly. Cool about 15 minutes in pan, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.
In case you have any “leftovers,” I’m going to show you how to turn them into, what I call, “Moreovers.” “Leftover” is a sad, lonely little word. It comes with the certain baggage of mediocrity and negativity. “Moreover,” however, has hope and promise and alluring expectations. Think about it: You’ve already produced and served a satisfying and convivial repast, so, what’s next? MORE is next. Whenever you say “Moreover,” you’re likely going to top what you previously said or did. So, Rosie doesn’t do leftovers. Rosie makes MOREOVERS!
Melt butter in skillet. Add diced potatoes and sauté until halfway cooked, maybe ten minutes. Add onion, corned beef, and broth. Simmer until potatoes are done and everything’s heated through. Serve on a piece of buttered whole wheat toast with a sunny-side up egg.
Do you really need a recipe for this?
Toast 2 pieces of rye. Give the bread a swipe of coarse-grained Dijon mustard and/or horseradish if desired. Lay slices of corned beef on top with a slice of Swiss. Run under the broiler until cheese is bubbly. Top with potato chips. Add the other slice of rye on top and squish. Top with a slice of dill pickle.
Rosie’s Moreover Colcannon Croquettes
2 cups colcannon mixture
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Panko bread crumbs
Mix colcannon and cheddar. Be sure your colcannon is cool so the cheddar doesn’t melt when you add it in. Shape into cylinders and roll in panko bread crumbs. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 400° until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
For those of you who can’t or don’t want to cook your own Irish dinner, may I suggest you try out the 17th Annual Colington Volunteer Fire Department’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner, on Saturday, March 17, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Sit down or take out a meal served in the traditional Irish manner — corned beef and cabbage cooked with celery, carrots, and onions. Irish Soda Bread will be served, along with dessert. Soft drinks, tea, and coffee will be offered, with beer and wine on premise.
Between 225 and 350 people have shown up over the years, with a declining number in the last few years. I want to help change that. Call 441-6234 to pick up your dinner. Tickets are $9 for adults and $5 for children. Proceeds benefit the Colington Volunteer Fire Department.
Erin go bragh!
Please visit with Rosie at KitchensAreMonkeyBusiness.