Cooking Corned Beef with Ease

Corned beef is an old-time favorite found in many familiar dishes, such as corned beef hash, Rueben sandwiches, red-flannel hash, New England boiled dinners and corned beef with cabbage.

What is Corned Beef?
Corned beef is a trimmed brisket or cut of beef round that has been preserved by brining with salt and spices. It is raw and must be cooked to produce the tender, sweet meat that is so sumptuous. This New England treat was once cured with corn-kernel-sized salt crystals before refrigeration was available. This process sweetened and flavored the meat and made it possible to enjoy the beef year round. The spices used usually included bay leaves, black pepper, allspice and garlic.

The corned beef we can buy today is still brined with spices and salt and sold in plastic bags with some of the brine.

Corned Beef and Cabbage
As corned beef is a boiled meat, the best pan for this job is a heavy aluminum or stainless steel Dutch Oven.

Begin by draining brine from the brisket and washing it with cold water to remove any brine left on the meat. Place in the Dutch Oven and cover with water. Add a couple of bay leaves and two dozen black peppercorns.

Simmer on low heat for about three hours. When the beef is done it should be tender to a fork in the center. Add cabbage (1 head cut in wedges) at this point and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes until the cabbage is ready. Remove meat from the pan and allow to rest for 20 minutes before attempting to slice the brisket. Cut across the grain of the meat when slicing.

Hot and Sweet Glaze
Some like a glaze for corned beef. Make one by mixing 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons of dry mustard, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and 1 ½ tablespoons of soy sauce. Spread this over the boiled corned beef. Bake at 350º F for about 15 minutes until the topping sets and browns nicely. Slice thin and serve with horseradish, whole-grain or hot mustard and potato salad.

Corned beef chilled and sliced thin makes a great sandwich. Serve with horseradish sauce or dark mustards. Salty potato chips or potato salads go well with corned beef. Serve dill pickles too.

The Reuben Sandwich
The Reuben is perhaps the most popular way of serving corned beef. The Reuben sandwich is made with rye or pumpernickel bread, drained sauerkraut, Swiss cheese slices and Russian dressing. Once you assemble the sandwich, grill in a skillet. You can also broil as an open-faced sandwich for about one minute or until the cheese is browned. Serve with dill pickle slices and salty potato chips.

New England Boiled Dinner
Cook a four pound corned beef brisket with bay leaves and peppercorns as above. While it is cooking, peel 10 beets and boil them in a separate saucepan. After the beef is done, remove it from the pot and add to its juices about a dozen peeled pearl onions, six peeled and quartered carrots, six medium-sized peeled and quartered potatoes, three parsnips and three turnips, also peeled and cut into quarters. Simmer on low heat for 30 minutes and then add one cabbage, cut into wedges. Simmer until the cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. You may now return the brisket to the pan to reheat it with the vegetables, except the beets. Then slice the meat, place it on a platter and spoon the vegetables and beets around it.

NE Dinner Sans Beets
A variation of this dinner for those who don't care for beets is to add 6 whole cloves, 2 cloves of minced garlic and 2 sliced white onions to the beef while boiling. Boil one hour for each pound of meat. Remove the roast and add six potatoes and six carrots. Cook 10 minutes and then add a head of green cabbage cut into wedges. Slice the brisket with the grain and serve with the vegetables.

Corned beef hash and red-flannel hash are traditionally made from the leftovers of New England boiled dinners or corned beef and cabbage. Cut a thick slice of corned beef into ½-inch cubes. Cook the hash in a cast-iron skillet for a nice brown crust. Heat the skillet with three tablespoons of oil and sauté a chopped white onion in the oil until it is light brown. Add about three cups of the chopped corned beef and about three cups of cooked, cubed potatoes, plus about three cups of the leftover vegetables, except the beets; two or threee beets go into the red-flannel hash only. Stir once and then mash down the ingredients with the back of a spatula. Cook, without disturbing, until the hash is browned on sides and bottom. Turn the hash out in one piece onto a serving platter. Serve with fried or poached eggs as a hearty breakfast or supper.

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