Corned Beef and Cabbage


Why Corned Beef and Cabbage is the untraditional Irish-American Saint Patrick’s Day meal

Celebrated, on March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated as a tribute to one of Ireland’s patron saints, Saint Patrick (AD 385–461). The one day that anyone can be Irish, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Irish-American culture by both Christians and non-Christians by wearing green, eating Irish food, drinking Irish beer as well as other green concoctions and by attending parades. Corned Beef and Cabbage has long been the American go-to meal for the Irish celebration, but you may be surprised to learn that Corned Beef and Cabbage, or at least the common variety we are most familiar with, is not very Irish at all.

The annual dyeing of the Chicago River green in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in downtown Chicago.

Even though most American’s look forward to eating Corned Beef and Cabbage as their celebratory Saint Patrick’s Day meal, pork, bacon and potatoes are much more typical choices for celebrating St Patrick’s day in Ireland. According to Smithsonian.com, the unpopularity of corned beef in Ireland comes from the people’s relationship with beef in general. Early on, cattle in Ireland were considered sacred and not used for their meat, but for their strength in the fields, for their milk and for the dairy products produced. Beef was not a significant part of the Irish diet for the majority of the population, but instead an export to England for centuries. In fact, only a wealthy few Irish citizens were able to afford to eat beef and then only at a special celebration or festival. The origin of corned beef can be traced back to the 12th century when salted beef was a popular meal of Irish royals. During these early times, beef was preserved with corn-sized kernels of salt and often times called ‘corned beef.’

Dublin, Ireland’s, “The Great Famine” or “Great Hunger” monument. The Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.

Today in Ireland, the official food served at most every meal and especially feasts would be most certainly the potato. Irish culture was forever changed for lack of the staple. In 1845, a potato blight broke out in Ireland completely destroying their main food source for most of the Irish population, and The Great Famine began. About a million died and another million Irish settled in the US. Because of prejudice against Irish immigrants, most settled in large cities, particularly New York City.

Corned Beef and Cabbage, as we know it today, came about because Irish American immigrants wanted to connect with their heritage. But really, Corned Beef and Cabbage is an American melting-pot meal thanks to Jewish and Irish immigrants who settled in New York in the early 1900’s.

Irish immigrants would visit their Jewish butchers at New York kosher meat markets. It turns out that Jewish traditional corned beef – made from brisket that has been brined in salt – is much more tasty, less salty and more feast-worthy in honor of a saint than Irish corned beef. But the Jewish-Irish beef disparity doesn’t explain the pairing with cabbage, although it is highly likely that stewed cabbage was served back in 12th Century Ireland due to its wide availability. The American marriage of Corn Beef and Cabbage only became official after our 16th president, Abe Lincoln, chose it at his menu for his Inaugural Luncheon on March 4, 1861; Corned Beef and Cabbage with Potatoes.

Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration, Washington, D.C., 1861. The incoming president chose Corned Beef and Cabbage with Potatoes to be served to guests of the luncheon. Since then, the meal has been a popular choice for Americans to eat leading up to Saint Patricks Day in March.

So thanks to the sacred Irish cows and the large kernels of salt used preserve them, Jewish butchers and Abe Lincoln, we Americans – of Irish decent or not – enjoy Corned Beef and Cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day. But if you have ever made Corned Beef and Cabbage, you know about the preparation time and effort that the dish can be.

Try this time saving method of preparing Corned Beef and Cabbage for your next Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. This recipe also considers separating the meat, just in case you have non-meat eaters in the family who still want the strong flavors of a traditional Irish-American feast.

Week-Night Corned Beef and Cabbage
Serves 6. Prep time: One hour.

Serves 6. Prep time: One hour.
1-2-3 lb. precooked corned beef
6 cups pre-shredded cabbage
1-16 oz. container sauerkraut
3 cups baby carrots, whole
1 lb. baby potatoes, whole
1 large onion, sliced
8 cloves garlic, rough chopped
3 tablespoon salt
1 cup vinegar
1 small branch fresh rosemary
1 tsp ground pepper
1 teaspoon pepper corns
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
½ cup vinegar
3 tablespoon olive oil
Enough water to cover all vegetables

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add all ingredients except beef to large stockpot and simmer on medium till tender, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile wrap corn beef in foil and place in oven.

For those who prefer the meatless version of Corned Beef and Cabbage, add an Irish flavor to precooked, prepared ‘meat’ balls made of textured soy protein or falafel. Simply coat meatballs in a mixture of 1-tablespoon olive oil, 1-tablespoon vinegar and salt and pepper. Bake on a cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Both versions pair nicely with freshly made biscuits or Irish Soda Bread.