Corned Beef

Every year, my family celebrates our Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day by donning green cothing with Celtic prints, or in recent years, Armstrong tartan kilts. We gather for a family feast of Corned beef, cabbage, and piles of mashed potatoes; listen to The Fenians and other Celtic music; and toast with glasses of Guiness. Although our revelry may not resemble the pious commemmorations of St. Patrick that take place on the same day Ireland, it is a tradition worth celebrating, rooted in Irish history, the immigrant experience, and the cultural melange that is America.

Beef was a traditionally English food, not Irish, but under British rule, salted beef — dubbed “corned beef” due to the large size of the salt crystals that formed on the meat — became an important Irish export for hundreds of years. Sadly British rule also brought oppressive laws that kept the Irish in poverty, so their own salted beef was too expensive for most Irish families.

In the mid 1800s, when droves of Irish emmigrated to America during the potato famine, many found themselves considerably more well-off than they had been in Ireland. Corned beef, the food of the wealthy back home, became a regular part of their diet and a symbol of their newfound prosperity. The spices used were quite different from those in Ireland though; they were heavily influenced by Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe.

The corned beef you’ll find at our table on St. Patrick’s Day, while not purely Irish, is steeped in tradition. It is connected to the political and economic history of Ireland as well as the American Dream as experienced by immigrants displaced by Ireland’s tremendous famine. Like the immigrants themselves, it has been shaped by America’s cultural melting pot. What better way could there be to celebrate our immigrant heritage?

Now I find myself revising the tradition again, this time because of my latex-fruit syndrome. Most of the corned beef that you find in the grocery store has mustard seed, which cross-reacts with latex, or unidentified “spices” or “natural flavorings,” which might. I had never considered curing my own corned beef, but now that I have, I’m sorry I didn’t try it sooner!

The recipe you will find below owes its existence primarily to Elise Bauer’s recipe from Simply Recipes. I have left out the mustard and red pepper flakes due to my allergies, substituted in fresh ginger for ground, and added horseradish, but other than that, it’s quite similar. Be sure to toast and crush the spices just before making the brine. Doing it too far in advance, or using pre-ground spices simply doesn’t compare. For more great information about homemade corned beef, read Elise’s recipe.

To learn more about the history of corned beef, read “Is Corned Beef Really Irish?” from Smithsonian Magazine.

Allergy Notes:

  • If you grind your ginger fresh, then you know everything that is in it. I like to use ginger paste for convenience, but you must read the label carefully as ginger is not the only ingredient. Be sure it doesn’t contain oils or other ingredients that may cross-react with latex. If you can’t get fresh and don’t have an allergen-free ginger paste available, you can substitute dried ground ginger into the recipe.
  • I also like to use prepared horseradish, since I use it so frequently. Again, if you prepare your own, you know exactly what is in it. If you buy horseradish, be sure to read the label carefully. Sometimes soy or other oil is added.
  • It is unusual, but occasionally, I have found beef that has unidentified “flavorings” added. When cooking for someone with allergies, be sure to read the labels on everything, even the meat you buy.
  • Of course, since potatoes cross-react with latex, don’t serve them as your side dish, but cabbage and some wheat-free soda bread make for a pretty great feast!
Print Recipe
Corned Beef
An Irish-American favorite, this tender, pink meat is excellent alongside cabbage and wheat-free soda bread.
Plate of corned beef and cabbage
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine American, Irish
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Passive Time 5 days
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Toasted Spice Mix
Brine
Meat
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Cuisine American, Irish
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Passive Time 5 days
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Toasted Spice Mix
Brine
Meat
Plate of corned beef and cabbage
Instructions
6 days ahead
  1. Toast the spices for the spice mix in a small pan over medium-high heat. Gently swirl the spices around as they toast to prevent burning. The spices should become hot and frangrant and will begin popping occasionally.
    Mixed corned beef spices toasting in a pan.
  2. Crush the spices a little using a mortar and pestil. Set aside 1/3 of the spice mix in an airtight container to be used when cooking the corned beef. The rest will go in the brine.
    Crushed corned-beef spices in mortar with pestil
  3. Place the water, 2/3 of the toasted spice mix, and the remaining brine ingredients in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and allow to cool to room temperature; then place in the fridge overnight.
5 days ahead
  1. Place your briscuit into a 4 quart storage container and pour the cold brine over the meat. Weigh the meat down to ensure it is submerged in the brine; then cover. (I like to use an upside-down saucer as a weight.)
  2. Soak the briscuit in the brine for 5 days. Flip the briscuit each day to encourage even brining.
4-8 hours ahead
  1. Remove the briscuit from the brine and place in a 6 quart slow cooker; then add the remaining 1/3 of the toasted spice mix and 1 bay leaf. (Do NOT cook in the brine. The result will be far too salty.)
  2. Add as much water as you can without going above the maximum amount recommended by the manufactuer.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
1 hour before
  1. Optional: If you want to prepare cabbage and/or rutabagas to go with the corned beef, now is a good time to take a couple cups of broth out of the slow cooker to add flavor to the veggies.
Serving Time
  1. Carefully place the briscuit on a cutting board with a moat to catch the juice. Slice across the grain. This works best with an electric knife.
Recipe Notes

My recipes avoid all ingredients listed on the American Latex Allergy Association website as known for cross-reacting with latex as well as a few other ingredients that I have discovered elsewhere. However, latex-fruit syndrome is still an emerging issue and poorly understood. There may be other foods that cross-react, and people with latex-fruit syndrome often have other food allergies independent of their latex allergy. Each individual is different, so be sure to discuss with your allergist the safest way for you to try out ingredients that are new to you before you cook with them.

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