Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luck o' the Irish Table

blog by: Alisa

On St. Patrick’s Day, many a home will be filled the fragrances of traditional Irish fare. Probably the first dish that comes to people’s minds is corned beef with cabbage. I readily admit, it’s the first thing my mind drifts to as well. It’s one of my favorite meals. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t care much for corned beef, my son doesn’t care for cabbage, and my daughter won’t even consider allowing her fork to touch any of it. What’s a wanna-be Irish girl to do? Tell them to suck it up and eat it anyway; it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and by God, I am having this meal at least once a year.

The most common method of preparing this meal is to boil everything together: first the beef, then the carrots and potatoes, and last goes the cabbage.  That’s the way it was cooked when I was growing up, and we had it much more frequently than once a year. Then one day I was dining out and ordered a plate of oven-roasted corned beef with roasted potatoes and carrots. That’s when I realized the boiling method is a lot like boiling a steak with a baked potato and broccoli; something that should be avoided as often as possible.  If you find yourself in a house where the oven doesn’t work and the only thing in the fridge is a corned beef brisket, well, by all means, boil away. Corned beef soup is better than nothing. However, if you are looking for a sublime corned beef experience, go with a tried and true roasting method. You will not be sorry you did.

Slow Roasted Corned Beef and Cabbage
3 1/2 to 4  lb corned beef brisket
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle Irish beer or ale (e.g. Guinness or Smithwick’s)
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1 head of cabbage, cut into 1/6 wedges
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
2 lbs baby red potatoes, scrubbed clean OR regular red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

I, personally, have a preference here for Smithwick’s ale over a Guinness stout, but I also prefer lighter, smoother beers and ales. Go with your preference.    
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Rinse the beef completely and pat dry. Rub the brown sugar on the meat to coat entire beef, including the bottom.
2. Place the brisket, fat side up, on top of the sliced onion in a roasting pan or Dutch oven. If desired, sprinkle the accompanying package of seasonings around the brisket. Pour the bottle of stout or ale around the beef.
3. Cover, and place in preheated oven. Bake for 2 hours.  Remove cover, add vegetables around the meat, add a little more ale if needed, and replace cover. Return to oven and bake for 1 more hour. Test the tenderness of the brisket. If it doesn’t seem quite tender enough, let it cook for another 30 minutes. (If your vegetables are done, be sure to remove them before going the extra 30 minutes. Mushy vegetables BAD.)
Allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing against the grain into ½” thick slices. Place sliced brisket on a large platter and arrange vegetables around the beef. Serve with grainy Dijon mustard, a horseradish sauce, or just as it is.

The interesting thing to note is that corned beef is not exactly a traditional Irish dish. Yes, it was popularized there, but beef used to be only a wealthy man’s meal. The hardworking backbone of Ireland came home to dishes made with lamb and more affordable cuts of pork, such as ham and pork belly. With that in mind, you should know that colcannon is a more traditional Irish meal than corned beef with cabbage. It’s also easily just as tasty when properly prepared. Colcannon doesn’t always have to include the pork, but being the omnivore that I am, I like the meatier version. Bacon is often used in place of ham, but if I had my way, the Southern girl in me would prepare this dish with a salty country ham every time. Country ham is absolutely divine. Unfortunately, that divinity seems exclusive to the South. The few times that I’ve had it since moving West have been when I ordered it from an Internet site and had it shipped to me. 

*Alisa suddenly gets swept up into vivid daydream of a Southern breakfast of grits, country ham, and a side of redeye gravy*

Oh, sorry.  *shakes reverie out of head* I was supposed to be telling you about colcannon. It’s a delectable Irish dish made of cooked cabbage, mashed potatoes, and ham. And it’s a much more traditionally Irish meal than corned beef and cabbage. Leave out the pork, and you have a vegetarian taste of Irish tradition.

3 lbs red potatoes, peeled and diced for boiling
1 lb cabbage, finely shredded, chopped, and cooked
4 oz butter
1 cup milk
3 tbsp heavy cream
8 scallions, chopped
½ lb cooked bacon, crumbled, or cooked & diced ham

Peel and boil the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, then mash until they are smooth. Stir scallions into the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately add the milk and scallions to the potatoes and blend together with a fork. Add in the chopped cabbage, heavy cream and half of the butter then stir through until smooth.
Serve colcannon in individual bowls. Make a well in the center of each serving and top with butter.

Round out your St. Patty’s Day with a loaf of soda bread and a cold Irish ale, and you will understand why the Irish feel so lucky!

(pronounced 'slawn-cha'), meaning Health! A common toast in Ireland, the equivalent to ‘Cheers.'


  1. Kim responded: I must try this! Your recipes are always amazing! This italian girl isn't as familiar with irish food. Great photos. Thanks!

  2. Ah you're bring out the Celt in me! The smidge of Irish is gladly beating the Scot in me into submission ;) Not a big cabbage fan, but I'm willing to try :)