How can you enjoy Saint Patrick's Day in the United States without corned beef and cabbage? Aside from being utterly delicious, the truth is that this dish is about as American as you can get – it didn't originate in Ireland, but rather in New York City! If you take a trip to Ireland, you'll be hard-pressed to find "corned beef and cabbage" sold as a dish anywhere there. Rather, Irish immigrants in New York City borrowed the recipe for corned beef from their Jewish neighbors, and used that as the basis of the traditional Saint Patrick's Day feast. Regardless of its origins, a hearty pot of corned beef and cabbage is a treat that is hard to pass up…especially if you make it yourself.
This recipe is the result of my preparations for Saint Patrick's Day in 2013. I went all-out this year, corning my own brisket and devising a method to bring extra flavor to the cabbage. Even though everyone enjoys corned beef and cabbage, what tends to happen in many homes is: everyone finishes off the corned beef, but no one eats the cabbage. Maybe they nibble at the cabbage in order to say they've eaten it; but cabbage has a (well-deserved) reputation for being bland and tasteless. It needs to be spiced in order to be more appealing and palatable…so, that's what I did. I hope you enjoy this method, and have yourself a healthy and hearty March 17th.
If you can get a whole beef brisket with fat cap (the layer of fat underneath the meat), then this is the best choice. When cut into portions, the brisket is separated into the flat cut and the point. Flat brisket is considered the higher quality meat: it's more tender and less resistant to cooking, especially if you want a faster cooking brisket. Point brisket is perfectly acceptable for slow-cooking, and can still work with barbecue and other kinds of fast cooking; however, it gives a tougher meat than the flat.
Pans needed: One huge bowl to hold the brined meat. 2-gallon sized plastic kitchen bag. (Don't use a trash bag, because they are chemically treated. Be sure to use a kitchen food storage bag.)
Note that if you're using nitrates, be sure you're using saltpeter or a curing salt. The package doesn't have to say "pink" curing salt, but it must say "curing." There's a fancy Himalayan "pink salt" sold at TJ Maxx and natural food stores, but this is just a fancy table salt; that's not "curing salt."
Mix the pickling spices together in a cast iron skillet. Heat them at low to medium until they are toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and pour the spices into a small bowl. Remember, some of these spices need to be stored away in the refrigerator, to be used when cooking the corned beef several days from now.
Add about 3 tablespoons of the pickling spices, plus the half stick of cinnamon, to a gallon of water in a large pot. (Store the rest of the spices in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator.) Add kosher salt, saltpeter or curing salt, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Place the brisket into the plastic bag, and add the brine to the bag. Add ice to further chill the brine. Seal the bag, squeezing out the air from the bag before sealing, and place it in the huge bowl. Store in your refrigerator for at least five days. (In 2013 I brined my brisket for two weeks.)
Pans needed: Large bowl for cabbage. Two large cast iron pots, one enameled and one bare iron.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Chop up potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery into large pieces; add them to large enameled cast iron pot.
Remove beef brisket from the brining bag, and discard the brine. Rinse off the brisket, then place it in the enameled pot on top of the vegetables. Add reserved pickling spices, sprinkling them on top of the brisket. Add kosher salt, black pepper, and two bay leaves. Cover the pot with a heavy iron lid, and cook it in the oven at 250 degrees F for five hours.
After about four and a half hours, begin preparing the cabbage. Remove the cabbage heart, chop up the cabbage, and add it to the large bowl.
Heat the bare iron pot on medium heat, until it is hot enough to cause a few drops of water to sizzle and dissolve. Add vegetable oil, and let it heat up for one minute. Add spices, stirring each one into the roux immediately: brown sugar, garlic, ginger, mustard, vinegar, thyme, kosher salt, pepper. Stir roux to keep it from burning. Add cabbage, and mix everything together until coated. Take the enameled pot out of the oven, and empty the cabbage on top of the beef. Cover the pot once again, and cook it all in the oven for another three hours. This gives a total of eight hours cooking time. By this time the cabbage will be thoroughly cooked; but it will still have some body and not be completely dissolved into mash.
Corned beef and cabbage are usually served with black pepper, horseradish, vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.