By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! That most Irish of holidays will be on coming on Friday, March 17 and we see all kinds of signs of its arrival. There are green shamrocks decorating store windows, plenty of greeting cards to send and paper goods to use, green beer, green rivers (Chicago has one), and the Irish pubs and restaurants brimming with jovial patrons. I’m guessing many of these folks are not Irish, but hey, jump on the celebratory band wagon!
And of course, corned beef can’t be far behind. St. Patrick’s Day is to corned beef as Thanksgiving is to turkey. Happily, for everyone, Irish or not, beginning in March, grocery stores start selling raw corned beef at competitive prices. Heads of cabbage abound in the produce department. I always make corned beef and cabbage with potatoes and carrots this time of year. Why? Even though the Fishman Family has no Irish roots; that’s a tradition with me because it’s available and I really love that meal!
Mark Kurlansky, in his book, Salt: A World History, writes “the Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages that was the forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef and in the 17th century, the English named the Irish salted beef "corned beef”.”
The beef was cured with large kernels of salt. It was not pickled like we know it here in this country; that originated in the U.S. in the late 19th century. Here, instead of the beef being just salted, it was brined in salt water with pickling spices. The Irish immigrants substituted the corned beef for their salt-cured bacon and beef.
Lisa Bailey, from Marshall, Mich. knows about this firsthand as her parents immigrated to Boston from Ireland when they were young. Lisa, whom I was introduced to by an Irish friend of mine, was raised on traditional Irish food so she’s a great resource.
The crazy St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that we see here in the U.S. do not happen in Ireland. Actually, Lisa says, the Irish “snicker” at our nutty behavior. Rather, she told me, it is a religious holiday when the Irish attend church to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of the country, followed by dining on an iconic Irish meal of bacon or salt-cured beef, potatoes, and cabbage. After moving to the states, her mom had substituted corned beef in place of the bacon.
I must admit, though, that my corned beef “orientation” is strictly Jewish deli, Is there anything more delicious than a hot corned beef sandwich on rye with the juices running down your arm?
What better person to talk to about Jewish deli corned beef than an heir to one of the great American corned beef manufacturers, Gene Gunsberg. His last name was synonymous with the real deal, with his family having been in the meat business for almost six decades.
At their peak in the ’60s and ’70s, the Gunsbergs produced as much as 10 million pounds of the stuff a year, selling to many major supermarket chains in the Midwest and on the East Coast. The Gunsbergs would begin making corned beefs during the October preceding the holiday and freeze them to able to fulfill their orders.
I was lucky enough to have had a memorable corned beef experience back in 1973. My dad asked Dick Gunsberg (Gene’s father), a fraternity brother of his at University of Michigan, if his daughter (me!) could take a tour of the Gunsberg Corned Beef plant in Detroit. I have never seen to so much raw beef brisket piled so high as in the butchering room there. I would have been grossed out by this crime scene if a) I weren’t so overwhelmed and b) I was too polite to throw up.
Today’s recipe offering takes corned beef to a whole new level. After boiling it in the brine with pickling spices, it is then trimmed of fat and dressed up in a new suit. I top the meat with stone ground mustard and brown sugar. Then I use Cumberland Sauce, a classic English sauce served with cooked pork, beef, and lamb, and bathe the corned beef with it as it roasts in the oven.
The Cumberland Sauce is made with currant jelly, citrus rind, port, and spices. Because of its high sugar content, as it cooks with the beef, it reduces and gets very glazy. I love serving this with homemade Irish Soda Bread. What a combination!
Tell us at The Insider if you’re going out to drink green beer on the holiday, make our delicious recipe or bite into a hot, juicy corned beef sandwich.
Wishing you all the luck of the Irish this spring!
Corned Beef with Cumberland Sauce
& Irish Soda Bread
3-4 lbs. corned beef brisket, flat cut
1/2 c. stone-ground mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. red currant or strawberry jelly
1/4 c. port or dry sherry
1 Tbsp. finely slivered orange rind
1 Tbsp. finely slivered lemon rind
1/4 c. finely chopped shallots
1/8 c. fresh orange juice
1/8 c. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
Put the corned beef in a large pot with the packet of pickling spices. Cover with 2” water. Bring to a boil; cover. Simmer for 3 1/4 hours. Remove meat to a shallow casserole, a little larger than the brisket. Reserve.
While the corned beef is cooking, make the Cumberland Sauce. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Cool.
Preheat oven to 350°. Trim the fat off the top of the meat and discard. Spread top with mustard. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and pat down. Pour the sauce around the corned beef.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, basting the meat every 15 minutes. Allow beef to rest for at least 15 minutes. Cut into thin slices across the grain. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pour the glazy sauce over the meat. Serve with Soda Bread
NOTE: This recipe can be doubled.
Irish Soda Bread
Yield: 1 lg. loaf
3 c. white flour
1 1/4 c. light rye flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
1 lg. egg
5 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into 1/4” cubes
Place a Dutch oven or covered casserole (no lid at this time) in a cold oven. Preheat oven to 400°.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Mix in the butter using your fingertips or a pastry cutter. Work the mixture until it is crumbly.
Scramble together the buttermilk and egg. Pour into the flour. Using a fork, stir the wet and dry together. When it gets stiff, use a wooden spoon. The dough will look shaggy.
Sprinkle some flour on your work surface. Knead the dough for 30-60 seconds, just until it comes together. Form into a dome. Cut a large X in the top. Remove the hot casserole from the oven. Carefully place the dough in it with the X remaining on top.
Bake, covered, for 35 minutes. Remove cover; bake for another 15-20 minutes until a nice golden crust has formed.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.