Irish Eyes Are Smiling

What would St. Patrick’s Day be without corned beef and cabbage? As hard as it may be to believe, this dish is not authentically Irish. Chef Sean Cummings, owner of the Irish restaurant and pub bearing his name in Oklahoma City, helps shed some light on the history of this popular St. Paddy’s Day staple.

Cummings, whose parents are both Irish, says that pork loin – referred to in Ireland as bacon – and not corned beef, was originally cooked with cabbage. Despite this, the Kansas City native says that corned beef and cabbage is always popular at his Irish restaurant.

“On St. Paddy’s Day we prepare and serve about 300 to 400 pounds of corned beef and cabbage,” says Cummings.

The dish has an interesting history. It was originally served in New York to Irish immigrants who came to the states to find work. Since the area was and still continues to be a melting pot of cultures, the Irish ate corned beef, cabbage, rye bread and other scraps that otherwise would have been thrown out.

“The reality is that the Irish were starving. Ireland lost 25 percent of its population to starvation and another 25 percent to immigration,” says Cummings.

Corned beef and cabbage may be made from humble ingredients; however, if handled correctly, the resulting product will melt in the mouth.

The chef shares tips for preparing a mouthwatering version of this Irish-American classic. The first is to use quality corned beef.

“Using good corned beef is key,” says Cummings.

Cummings prefers Boyle’s brand because of the pickling spice that is used, as well as the amount of time that the meat stays in the pickling spice. A traditional English blend, the pickling spice consists of a combination of mace, juniper berries, allspice and cloves and other spices.

The cut of meat is also important. The flat is better quality than the brisket, which is the less expensive cut.

“The flat has the smallest amount of fat and it is an even thickness throughout,” he says.

Another tip for preparing tender, melt-in-the-mouth corned beef is to slice it correctly.

“Slicing against the grain will yield more tender meat; otherwise it will be stringy,” Cummings advises.

Sean Cummings’s Corned Beef and Cabbage

Makes 15-20 servings

5-7 lb. Boyle’s corned beef
(other brand can be substituted)
2 ham hocks
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 cabbage, cut into bite sized pieces

Place corned beef, ham hocks, onion and garlic in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and leave at high boil for two minutes. Turn stove to lowest possible boil; cover and cook for approximately four hours, checking to see when the fat layer becomes soft. When soft, the corned beef is done. Remember that “low and slow” makes good corned beef. The internal temperature of the meat should be 180 degrees.

Remove and cool. The fat will be easy to remove with a knife. Put fat back in water. Add cabbage and boil until soft. Use any leftover corned beef for making Reuben sandwiches the next day.

If the more traditional bacon and cabbage is desired, substitute one three-to-four-pound portion of pork loin and cook for two hours instead of four.

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