For many of us, corned beef tastes delicious every day of the year. But its popularity soars on Saint Patrick’s Day — Irish heritage optional.
Like green beer, this holiday food tradition is largely a phenomenon in the United States. In fact, today’s corned beef is more Jewish than Irish. It’s rare to encounter it in Ireland.
The British are credited for corning beef in the 17th century by curing fresh beef with salt for preservation, a process often carried out in Ireland.
Shaylyn Esposito, writing in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2013, recounts the coming of corned beef to the Americas. Irish corned beef was imported until the end of the 18th century, when the North American colonies were producing their own.
A million Irish people immigrated to this country during Ireland’s Great Famine, frequently landing first in New York alongside Jewish immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. Here, the Irish embraced beef — especially corned beef.
However, Esposito explains that “the corned beef the Irish immigrants ate was much different than that produced in Ireland 200 years prior. The Irish immigrants almost solely bought their meat from kosher butchers. And what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes.”
Since brisket is a tough cut of beef, it is well suited to the salting and cooking that transforms it into tender, tasty corned beef. This all explains why today corned beef can be found in Irish-American households and Jewish delis alike.
If you’ve prepared a slab for your St. Patrick’s Day dinner tonight, you may have leftovers tomorrow. Here is a way to carry that tasty flavor into a new meal.
I prefer not to use pre-shredded cheeses because they include anti-caking ingredients that interfere with a creamy melt. It’s easy to shred chunks of cheese on the large holes of a four-sided grater. If desired, transfer the finished dish to a buttered baking dish and top with buttered bread crumbs; bake until crumbs are crisp and golden.
CHEESY PASTA WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND CORNED BEEF
- 8 ounces (about 2-1/2 cups) uncooked mezzi rigatoni or fusilli pasta
- 1-1/2 cups (4 to 5 ounces) small-dice corned beef
- Chopped parsley and green onions, for garnish
- >> Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter or bacon fat
- 1/2 large sweet onion, very thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 cups nonfat milk
- 1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce, plus more for serving
- 1 cup (3 ounces) shredded white cheddar cheese
- 1 cup (3 ounces) shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Heat a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add pasta. Cook, stirring often, until al dente (nearly tender), 8 to 10 minutes. Scoop out 1 cup of cooking liquid and reserve. Drain pasta well and let stand.
To make sauce (this can be started as pasta cooks): Heat olive oil and butter in medium-size saucepan over medium. Add onion; cook and stir until onion is golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
Sprinkle flour over onions; cook and stir 1 minute. Whisk in milk, half-and-half and salt. Cook, whisking constantly until milk thickens, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and season with hot sauce.
When pasta is done, stir both cheeses into hot white sauce.
Add drained pasta and corned beef to sauce; mix gently. Taste and add more salt if needed. Gently stir in enough of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to loosen up the mixture. Serve immediately, sprinkled with parsley and green onions. Serves 6.