Corned Beef Basics
The first corned beef was packed in salt, and sometimes spices, in order to cure it. It got its name from the corn kernel-sized grains of salt it was packed in.
Today, corned beef is usually made by soaking a brisket roast in a brine of water, salt, and spices. While it's not traditional in Ireland, corned beef is what most Americans prepare for St. Patrick's Day feasts.
About the Beef
For centuries, corned beef was a food reserved for special occasions. Beef was considered to be a decadent indulgence up until the 20th century. It was only available to very wealthy people, because most cows were kept for their milk or for breeding.
About the Brisket
Brisket comes from the heavily exercised front limbs of the animal, and is consequently a tough cut of meat. When cooked properly--braised--this cut is tender, juicy and succulent. Corned beef and other forms of brisket need to be cooked for a long time with low heat and plenty of moisture in order to realize their full potential as the star of your dinner table.
To cook prepared corned beef, place it in a large pot along with the liquid and spices that accompanied it in the package. Pour in enough water to cover the beef, then bring the water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot. A three-pound corned beef will take about three hours to become perfectly tender. Check the meat occasionally, adding more water if necessary. The beef is ready when it pulls apart easily. For a one-pot feast, you can add shredded cabbage and chunks of potatoes and carrots to the pot during the last half hour of cooking.
If you'd like to prepare your own corned beef from a fresh brisket, try these recipes:
Find more Irish recipes in our St. Patrick's Day collection.