It’s that time of the year again, when everyone is Irish. This St. Patrick’s Day promises to be even more fun than most since it falls on Friday, giving us a good excuse to stretch our celebration of all things green well into the weekend.
And what would a long St. Paddy’s day weekend be without corned beef and cabbage? I know this is something you probably only eat once a year, if that. But in keeping with the American-Irish tradition of green beer, Guinness and corned beef and cabbage during the wearing o’ the green, you must consume the latter sometime this weekend. If you’re wise you’ll cook it yourself'if only so you’ll have leftover corned beef on hand for hash and sandwiches.
CB&C is one of those dishes that everyone has opinions about. Some like their corned beef thickly sliced or served in big chunks, like meatloaf. Others swear that the only way they’ll eat corned beef is if it’s shaved as thin as a white Alba truffle.
This makes Scott Schlisman’s job a tad difficult. As co-owner of MacCool’s Public House and the about-to-open MacCool’s The Deuce in Layton, he is keen on pleasing his customers. And so far, the folks who want their corned beef sliced thin have won the day. Weighing in with my own opinion, I prefer thick chunks of corned beef in my CB&C, but favor thinly shaved meat for sandwiches. Schlisman’s partner Mic Warner has a remedy to help heal this divide. “We’re contemplating customizing our corned beef at the restaurant so that people can have it the way they like it,” Warner says. Sounds like a smart plan to me.
You will, of course, find plenty of CB&C on bar and restaurant menus around town this weekend. But if you do decide to prepare your own at home, Schlisman has some pointers for you. I sat down with him last week to get the lowdown on CB&C from an expert.
First things first: “Work with your butcher,” Schlisman says. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying corned beef in the supermarket with those little packets of spices included. But if you can, go to a butcher shop like Snider’s Brothers [6245 Highland Drive] and ask for a raw corned-beef brisket with the fat cap on it. It’s a brisket that’s been brined already. That’s what we use here at MacCool’s.” Schlisman says that when he brines his own corned beef at home, the most important thing is to “get a good acidity level.” He suggests using vinegar, lemons, cider or anything acidic enough to help break down and tenderize the meat. His preference is Champagne vinegar.
So, now you’ve got a brined piece of corned beef. What do you do with it? Countering tradition, at MacCool’s they steam the corned beef brisket as opposed to braising or boiling it. Schlisman says that the steaming process allows him to best control the cooking temperature of the meat. “It’s perfectly OK to cook your corned beef in a pot of hot water with the contents of that little spice package,” Schlisman says. “But some people just throw the meat into a pot of boiling water. That causes the meat to tighten up and get really tough on you. What you want to do if you’re cooking corned beef at home isn’t to boil it, but to poach the meat. You want to keep the temperature between about 175 and 190 degrees. That way you can cook the brisket forever and it’ll be tender and juicy.” At MacCool’s they cook their corned beef for about 8 hours. That’s one thing great about corned beef; it’s almost impossible to overcook.
Now the question that’s probably resulted in more violent confrontations than the British versus the IRA: What about carrots? Schlisman, like me, thinks carrots in corned beef & cabbage is just wrong. “The Irish do not put carrots in there,” he says emphatically. At MacCool’s, there’s not a carrot chunk to be found in the CB&C. Onions, potatoes, cabbage, spices (a bit too much allspice and cloves for my taste) and corned beef'that’s what goes into MacCool’s CB&C. “At the restaurant, we cooked the meat, cabbage, potatoes and onions separately so that they don’t all fall apart,” Schlisman says.
If you’re making CB&C at home, he suggests cooking the corned beef with some chopped onions and spices. Then, when you’re about a half-hour or so from serving, add halved baby red Bliss potatoes to the pot. Remember, the water/broth should be just simmering. Then, with about 15 minutes to go, add wedges of cabbage. That way, the cabbage will have just enough time to soften, but it’ll still retain a bit of crunch. Plus, it releases some starch, which helps to thicken the broth.
“It’s a really easy dish to make,” Schlisman says, smiling. When I ask him what to serve to drink with corned beef and cabbage, he doesn’t hesitate. “Guinness! Guinness and Jameson!”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you real and honorary Irish. If you’re making CB&C at home, don’t forget to invite your local food writer. I’ll bring my own shillelagh.