Many Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a meal of corned beef and cabbage as a tribute to their Irish roots. The idea that the average Irish ancestor dined on corned beef and cabbage may not be entirely accurate, but it's still fun to make a serve this delicious dish.
Corned beef derives its name from the curing process practiced by Anglo-Saxons prior to refrigeration. Beef was often cured by rubbing coarse pellets of salt into it. Those salt pellets, which resembled kernels of corn, lead to the name "corned beef." The high salt content preserved the beef and prevented spoilage.
Today, beef is corned in a brine of salt water and spices, primarily peppercorns and bay leafs. It continues to carry the name corned beef although "brined" or "pickled" may be more accurate.
A long held belief that Irish commoners feasted on corned beef and cabbage may not be accurate. According to the History Channel, it is more likely that fresh bacon or a ham joint was used as a flavoring for cabbage and other root vegetables for most. Corned beef was probably relegated to the tables of the wealthy.
Traditional recipes for corned beef call for the meat to be simmered in a pot with select cuts of cabbage, potatoes and carrots. Spices may be added but most pieces of corned beef now include a small packet of spices that you add to the water to create a delicious broth that permeates the meat and vegetables.
Leftover corn beef makes especially flavorful sandwiches on fresh rye bread spread with mustard. Corned beef hash made from finely chopped meat and potatoes sauteed in oil or butter provides a delicious meal if you have any leftovers.
Fresh corned beef purchased in a plastic pouch with pickling juices can be safely stored in the refrigerator to up 7 days or until the expiration date. To freeze a corned beef brisket, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends draining the brine prior to freezing to maintain flavor and texture. Cooked corned beef stored in the refrigerator maintains safety for 3 to 4 days and can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Cooked corn beef must reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees to maintain safety. Although the meat remains pink or red, this is not an indication the meat is under cooked. Nitrates added to the curing process cause the pink color.