* "Corned" doesn't refer to maize, but rather to the large salt granules that were once used to dry cure meats. Just about any small, seed-shaped thing used to be called a corn, which is why we refer to whole barley as barleycorn and to calluses on toes as corns as well.
* The "beef" in question is brisket, a heavily worked cut from the lower chest of the cow, composed of the superficial and deep pectorals. Since it's made of tough stuff requiring hours of long, moist cooking, briskets from the pre-refrigerator days were typically cured so that they would survive the warmer months.
* Once the fires of winter were lit, the brisket would bathe in the soup pot, where days of simmering would dissolve its connective tissue into lip-smacking goodness.
* Although the Irish city Cork was once known for its many corning and curing concerns, most of the beef produced there wound up in English, not Irish, mouths. As a result, corned beef was something of an aspirational dish. Most Irishmen wouldn't try it until reaching America.
* The mass migrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries put plenty of Irishmen in close proximity to Jews, a group that had developed a cuisine based on efficiency and millennia of constant movement -- which is to say they had intimate knowledge of the economical and oft-overlooked brisket.
* These Jewish neighbors were also expert picklers. When it came to brisket, kosher delicatessens added allspice, juniper berry, mustard seed, and black pepper -- all the flavorings still used in today's corned beef.
* Corned beef's classic pink hue comes from potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, a natural preservative dating back to at least the Middle Ages. Saltpeter "fixes" the reddish-pink color of meat.
* And then there's the cabbage. Whereas your average Irishman didn't eat much meat in Ireland, cabbage was born on the British Isles where the humidity and cold weather form a cabbage paradise. Despite all the potato hype, cabbage is the foundation upon which true Irish cuisine is built. Luckily, New York is one of the top cabbage-producing states.
* So is corned beef and cabbage Irish? No. Is it American? Heck yes! And it's the perfect dish to soak up all that Guinness you'll be drinkin' come March 17, the day we're all at least a little bit Irish.
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