I am about as Irish as they come. And I have both of my grandmothers to thank for that. Mary Ryan and Claire Moriarty ensured that March 17th would always be a special day for my family and me. And if being Irish was not enough, I of course went to Notre Dame, the most Irish Catholic school in the country, own more green t-shirts than the leprechaun, can do the jig, and scream “Go Irish” more days of the year than not. It’s in my blood, it’s in my heart, it’s who I am.
With all that though, I somehow have never come to appreciate corned beef. Year after year, I stick my nose up at that pink colored meat, never getting too excited for any St. Patty’s Day celebration knowing that I will spend the majority of the event hungry and praying that a salad will be served alongside my least favorite food. I really do not know where my dislike of corned beef came from. Perhaps I had a bad experience with it at one point in time and have blocked out the memory, leaving nothing but negative feelings and a gag reflex. Or perhaps just because we were not served corned beef as children, I therefore have come to believe that I do not like it. I am really not sure, but what I do know is that I have been avoiding it for 26 straight years.
This year though, I received a formal request for corned beef. I have to admit, my husband (knowing my dislike) was pretty sly. He submitted it the Monday before St. Patrick’s Day from the safety of his office, while I was cruising some 35,000 feet above land. He embedded his plea at the very bottom of an email as if it was nothing and in hopes that I would not really notice with all the other items he had rattled off before reaching his real point. He simply asked “Will you please make corned beef on Thursday?” Had I not been harboring feelings of slight guilt for leaving him home alone and stuck working long days and even longer nights, while I jetted down to Florida for a family event, I probably would have said no. But my guilt was still lingering and I found myself at Whole Foods picking out my least favorite meat.
Having never eaten more than a bite of corned beef, let alone made it, I felt a little overwhelmed by the task at hand. I read through several recipes and took ideas from each to create our feast. The first thing I realized was that nearly every recipe called for the meat to brine for a minimum of a week. It was already Monday, and the dinner was expected to be served on Thursday, so 3 days would have to work this time. To create my brine I boiled a large pot of water with an ungodly amount of salt and about 1/2 a cup of brown sugar. Once the water had begun to boil, I added in peppercorns, cloves, all spice, and about 6 bay leaves. After the salt and sugar had dissolved, I then removed the pot from the heat, and began adding ice cubes until it returned to room temperature. From here I simply added my meat to the pot, covered it and threw it in the refrigerator for the next 3 days.
On Thursday, the real fun began. I removed the meat from the brine and trimmed off the majority of the fat. I then placed the meat in a dutch oven and covered entirely with water.
To the pot I added a can of Ale beer, a handful of cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and cloves. I then chopped up an onion and a half and threw that into the pot as well.
I brought the pot to a boil and then reduced the heat and let it boil for the next six hours, adding a little more water as needed.
Towards the end of those six hours, I chopped up my carrots and potatoes to later be baked with the beef.
I also mixed up my rub for the meat. I combined 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a little bit of mustard powder, ground cloves, ground ginger, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I mixed those together and set aside until the meat was ready for the oven.
Once the meat was extremely tender, I transferred it along with all of the onions into my baking pan. I covered the meat with the dry rub and surrounded it with the cooked potatoes and carrots. I seasoned the vegetables with sea salt, black pepper and a little bit of onion powder, before placing in a 325 degree oven.
I let the meat and vegetables bake for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots were crisp and golden.
After allowing the meat rest for several minutes, I let the husband join in the fun and thinly slice the meat. Note: I also removed the excess dry rub from atop of the meat before serving. I found that it was a little too sweet for my liking. In the future, I will probably make only about half of the rub. Although tasty, I wanted a more savory dish and found the rub to be just a tad too sweet.
I served my first ever corned beef along with the onions, carrots and potatoes and zucchini bread (recipe below).
Much to my surprise the husband requested zucchini bread with this meal instead of the more traditional Irish Soda Bread. I was happy to oblige him, especially since it was quick and easy to make and left our whole condo smelling wonderfully of cinnamon (I used the Joy of Cooking recipe, but added whole wheat flour).
To make the zucchini bread first grate 2 medium sized zucchinis.
Combine 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon in one bowl.
In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until completely blended. Add in the grated zucchini and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
I have to say that I think my first corned beef was actually a success! I had feared a total disaster and had even planned a back-up meal just in case. But I was pleasantly surprised with our St. Patrick’s Day feast, and even found myself enjoying the food rather than wishing it was some other holiday. Although I do not think I will make corned beef throughout the year, I know we have now started a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition; one that will make my grandmothers, both Ryan and Moriarty, proud every March 17th from here on out. And I know my husband is pleased that his wife is now willing to make one of his favorite meals.
And just because it is March Madness and in my blood GO IRISH! Take us to the final four!