First things first — corned beef and cabbage is not what they will be having for dinner in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day this Saturday. It is a purely Irish-American tradition.
The practice of corning meat does have Irish roots. In 17th and 18th century Anglo- Irish world, the word "corn" was used to describe any small hard particle or grain, such as salt. Today we say a “grain of salt,” but back then it would be a “corn of salt.” Before refrigeration, beef was preserved by packing it in large corns of salt, and the preserved meat became known as corned beef. And while lots of cattle was being raised in Ireland during this time, for the most part that meat was was being corned to be exported to England — as a rule, the citizenry of Ireland were too poor too afford to eat the very beef that they were raising. The bulk of their diet would have been potatoes and vegetables, any meat would have been the more readily available and marginally more affordable lamb or pork. The St. Patrick's Day connection came about in the U.S. where cheap beef, memories of the cured bacon and greens of the auld sod and proximity to new Jewish neighbors who were likely making their own salted meats, conspired to create this new tradition. Fun fact about corned beef: corned beef and cabbage with parsley potatoes were served at Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural dinner.
Corning your own beef is simple and takes 5 days to reach it's salted prime. Start now and you'll have your own DIY corned beef in time for St.Patrick's day dinner. Here’s how it’s done:
Take a 10-pound slab of fresh beef brisket
For the brine:
1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
5 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons pink curing salt
For the pickling spices:
2 Tablespoons peppercorns
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
1 Tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons whole Juniper
2 teaspoons all-spice
2 teaspoons whole clove
1 stick cinnamon
3 bay leaves
Cut the brisket into three pieces. Pour gallon of cold water into a non-reactive, food-grade container. Stir in salt, brown sugar, and pink salt until all is dissolved. Add garlic cloves.
Mix the pickling spices together in a bowl. Take half of of the spice mix and lightly smash until crushed. Add the crushed spices, along with the whole, into the brine. Finally, add the meat so that it’s submerged under the spicy brine.
Put something heavy on top of the meat to keep it completely submerged. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator for 5 days. Remove the meat from the brine and cook as you would any other corned beef. Don't forget the potatoes!