All This and Irish Stew
Meditations on Corned Beef for St. Patrick's Day
Aye, me Uncle Walter was eccentric, to be sure. He was the one, don’t you know, who used to coast his car down hills to save gas, spread newspaper on the floor to preserve the linoleum, and believed in his soul you could revive a flashlight battery in the refrigerator. But his weirdest quirk turned out to be almost kosher, as they say: Walter Joyce made his New England boiled dinner with Spam instead of corned beef. And millions of Irish might have agreed.
Turns out the meal we free-associate with St. Patrick’s Day, corned beef and cabbage, does not exist in the Old Country. Over there, it’s bacon and cabbage that’s served in every home from Galway Bay to Tipperary. But, if you’ve ever eaten breakfast in Ireland, you know their bacon makes ours taste like fatty cardboard burned stuff. Corned beef became the American’s Irish meal by default.
After researching the matter, I’ve found precious little of the Irish B available here, but, instead, a helpful (and easy) recipe. Buy a boneless picnic pork roast or tied up loin, and cover it in salted water (two tablespoons kosher salt, but not much more) overnight. The next day, pour off the brine, refill the pot to cover, and add garlic cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Skimming the scum, boil for two hours or until the “bacon” is fork tender. Remove and rest; throw into the same water some quartered cabbage, onions, and new potatoes and bring it back to a boil. Pull out the cabbage right away and the potatoes soon after. Serve the whole mess with some nice mustard.
Or go eat your corned beef, you lace-curtain Irish @*. (Sorry, I just saw The Departed again.) The most elegant version of the stuff is served year-round at Dargan’s, all tender and smeared with a slightly gluey-delicious celery sauce. Not one of the dozen fancy restaurants I called had plans to Erin Go Bragh their house specials on March 17. Other places where it’s a point of pride to be green include State & A Bar and Grill-with a new chef determined to make St. Paddy’s Day brilliant, with Irish stew and maybe soda bread-Joe’s Cafe, Harry’s Plaza Cafe, Mesa Cafe, the Catholic Church (call your local rectory), and, last of all, your kitchen. Grocery stores put those lovely plastic bags full of brined brisket-uncooked corned beef-on sale, sometimes for as low as a couple bucks. This being the kind of meal people who know how to boil water can prepare, it’s simple and a deal. You see the recipe above? Just omit the pickling day and do the rest. Serve it with Guinness or Harp Ale or a glass of orange juice. If you’re feelin’ a wee bit daft like me uncle, though, you can always replace the corned beef with a genormous hunk o’ Spam.