How do I always get myself into trouble on St. Patrick’s Day? It’s one thing to make promises you can’t keep; I make promises I don’t want to keep.
I believe that there is something wrong with anyone who doesn’t eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day (infants and anyone without teeth or the ability to eat solids are excepted). If you are a vegetarian, you should be eating corned tofu and cabbage (flavoring the cabbage with the same spices omnivores use for their corned beef), or whatever your favorite meat substitute is AND cabbage. Boiled cabbage.
There are probably dozens of ways to prepare corned beef, but on St. Patrick’s Day there is but one: boiled. For hours. With cabbage. And potatoes. Just the thought of it makes me high. It probably doesn’t hurt that there’s corned beef and cabbage boiling away in my kitchen as I type. The aroma intoxicates me.
There aren’t many meals that are so easy to prepare, yet so impressive on presentation. It’s not that corned beef is especially artistic; I know it’s not when I serve it. But there’s something that says “work” about a corned beef supper. By the time my corned beef is ready (after hours and hours and hours of simmering), it will be sliced and served with boiled potatoes, cabbage, and sliced carrots. I don’t know if there’s any particular Irish significance to carrots, but they seem to go well with the rest of the amalgamation.
If you’ve never made your own, believe me, it’s much simpler than that other holiday staple, the Thanksgiving turkey. You buy a corned beef that’s already seasoned, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. You put the corned beef in a big pot, cover with water (the beef, not the pot), and boil for a few hours. After the first hour or two, add your vegetables.
You can’t just throw the whole head of cabbage in; you’ve got to cut it up first. Some people put in whole leaves; I cut it down to bite-size pieces. If you are using fresh potatoes and carrots, you’ve got to peel them, then add the whole potatoes to the pot, slice the carrots, and add them. Here’s where I cheat. I use canned carrots and canned new potatoes. By the time the carrots and potatoes have finished boiling with the rest of the dish, you won’t know they came from a can. Frozen would work just as well.
How long the corned beef must be boiled depends on its size. Generally, there are four steps: simmer the corned beef for about two hours, throw in the vegetables, simmer for another two hours or so (the longer you boil it, the better it will be — within limits), remove to a serving plate, and wait ten minutes before slicing. Every hour or so, check to make sure the water hasn’t boiled down too much. You don’t have to cover the pot, but if you have four cats, like we do, it can’t hurt (Boris the Bad has been known to grab chicken out of a pot of boiling water). When the meat seems to be falling apart, it’s ready.
Slice the corned beef and arrange it on top of the boiled veggies. I have to have spicy brown mustard for the beef, and butter for the veggies. If you are lucky enough to live near a bakery (particularly in the Northeast), get a nice fresh loaf of rye bread to serve with dinner. Oddly, the rye bread goes better with this meal than Irish soda bread. The rest of us will have to make do with packaged rye bread (unless we’re feeling ambitious and want to make our own bread, which isn’t such a bad idea because that takes about as long as boiling the corned beef).
There really is only one thing for adults to drink with corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. That would be green beer. If you’re preparing the meal yourself, get some beer, add a tiny bit of green food coloring, and you’re set.
So how, if I follow these instructions, could I possibly get myself in trouble on St. Patty’s Day? Easy. St. Patty’s Day and Lent coincide, and I always give something(s) up for Lent. For two years in a row, I gave up beef. The first year, I made corned beef for my family. Never again; there is sacrifice, and there is SACRIFICE. The second year I deferred the corned beef until Easter. Not the traditional Easter dinner, but wonderful nonetheless. So this year, I didn’t give up beef. No — brainiac that I am, I gave up alcohol.
I’m not a “big drinker” but Chip and I enjoy having a drink together occasionally, so that enjoyment is basically what I’ve given up for Lent. But here we are on St. Patrick’s Day again and guess what. I can’t have green beer. When I make a commitment, that’s it, no getting out of it. No matter what. Even if it involves a Saint who, if he exists, would probably plead my case and get me off with a light sentence. I guess I could get some alcohol-free beer, but that feels like cheating.
Beer or no beer, I’m Irish today, and I’m going to enjoy all the corned beef and cabbage that I can eat. If you want to celebrate the day but don’t want to cook, go find a nice deli that’s making corned beef and cabbage sandwiches. Be sure to get one on a nice, seeded rye and don’t forget the deli mustard.