Corned Beef and Cabbage for 500, Please!!
Mar. 14, 2011 12:23 pm
Updated: Aug. 9, 2011 10:00 am
My fiance's home church hosts a yearly St. Patrick's Day dinner, usually held on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day. The event is a fundraiser for the church's education program and includes dinner, entertainment by a real Irish band and Irish dancers
(think Riverdance), beverages, dessert, and a raffle. Approximately 500 people attend this dinner every year, so you can imagine what an awesome fundraiser it is for the school! Even though my fiance and I have been together for almost eight years, I haven't
ever been able to attend this event with him...until this year. I got to experience the entire thing, from beginning to end, with him.
Since we live about 90 miles away from the church, we got up early and headed out the door at 6:00 a.m. We got to the church at about 7:45, where my fiance's nephew, brother-in-law, and two other church members were already beginning to prepare the
502 POUNDS of corned beef we would be cooking that day. This was the first year they would be hosting this event without my fiance's mother "supervising" (she passed away in December), so one of the first things we did was put up a large photograph
of her and hang her stainless steel serving spoon from the cupboard handle so she could be represented. Then we got to work.
While my fiance, his relatives, and the other two men were trimming the corned beef and getting it into the HUGE stock pots to begin cooking, I helped a nice couple named Pam and Patrick (he's got an appropriate name, huh?) start in on the
200 POUNDS of small red potatoes, removing eyes and cutting them in half, then trying to find enough pots, trays, bins, and bowls to keep them submerged in water so they wouldn't turn brown. Somewhere in the middle of that, my fiance and I
sneaked away to go grab something to eat. When we got back, Pam and Patrick were still working on the potatoes, so I hopped back on the job and helped them finish up. By this time, some of the briskets were coming out of the jacuzzis, into large steam trays,
and then into the oven to finish cooking while the rest of the briskets took their turns in the jacuzzi.
Somewhere in the middle of this, one of the guys commented that we needed some Irish whiskey, so he left to find the nearest liquor store. When he got back, we started in on the Irish coffee...or something like it. We put coffee, Irish whiskey, and a little
creamer, then topped it off with a generous helping of whipped cream. That stuff sneaks up on you!! I lost count of how many cups I drank, but let's just say I was feeling pretty good a couple hours later and had to go sit down for awhile so I wouldn't FALL
down! I texted my dad, saying "I feel like Herbie!" (If you have seen the original movie "The Love Bug", you'll understand). He asked why and I said "Irish Coffee :-D" LOL! He responded with "UNDERSTOOD!!" and I laughed.
No, don't get me wrong...we weren't all a bunch of drunks hanging out in the kitchen not getting anything done. While we were downing the Irish coffee, we finished prepping the potatoes and they went into the Jacuzzis after the beef had all gone swimming and
made its way into the sauna underneath. The potatoes were cooked al dente and then they went into the sauna with the beef to finish cooking while the
200 POUNDS of carrots got their turn in the Jacuzzi. Thankfully, they buy baby carrots, so prep wasn't long and involved on those...but we DID still have to open 10 two-pound bags and 180 one-pound bags and empty them into pots and pans.
Once the carrots were al dente, the beef came out of the sauna to get de-fatted and sliced. Thank goodness for one of the guys owning a professional meat slicer!! It made short work of the corned beef and cut it into beautiful slices, where hand-held knives
would have taken much longer and mangled the meat. The slices went back into the steam trays with the juices, then back into the sauna to stay warm until dinnertime. About this time, my fiance and I went to work on the cabbages. I think we had about
150 HEADS of cabbage, which we cut into quarters and then set aside. It would get its turn in the Jacuzzis right before being put on plates and served. One funny thing happened while we were de-fatting and slicing the meat. Hugo, the man
who owned the slicer, was de-fatting and then slicing the meat by himself, so I went over and offered to help. My fiance was on the other side of a very loud radio, so he couldn't hear what we were talking about. I was worried about damaging my engagement
ring, so I took it off and handed it to my fiance. He took it, looking confused, and said "Is there someone else?" Of course he was joking, but Hugo said something about me deciding to run away with him and everyone in the kitchen busted up laughing (Hugo
is married LOL!). I explained that I didn't want to hurt my ring while prepping and slicing the meat, but my fiance still thought it would be funny to tease me when I asked for the ring back. He refused to give it to me for awhile, saying I had given it
back to him so it was his to keep. Don't worry, though...the ring is safely back on my finger where it belongs :-)
After the meat was sliced, bread rolls, slices of rye bread, pats of butter, creamy horseradish, and packets of ketchup and mustard all had to be divided up into little bowls and baskets and placed on the tables. Twelve-packs of mini cupcakes were lined up
on the countertops so they'd be handy when it came time for dessert.
Guests started arriving at 6:00 p.m. and were treated to entertainment from a real Irish band. This group was GOOD!! My fiance told me that each year at the end of the event they book this same band for the next year's event. After hearing them play and
sing, I could understand why! At about 6:30, my fiance came and told me I had to leave the kitchen. I was confused, but he took me by the hand and escorted me to the dining room, where a very nice lady named Betty was waiting. He introduced me as his fiance
and Betty took my hand, pulling me into the dining room and saying, "You're coming to sit with us. You've been in that kitchen long enough!" She led me to a table with several other ladies, all in their 60s-80s, where I spent the rest of the evening joking,
laughing, and having a blast! These ladies had known my fiance for years and they welcomed me into their little group with open arms. The only sad point during the evening was when the monsignor took the stage and dedicated the dinner to the memory of my
fiance's mother...and I cried. She was such a special woman and that evening I heard so many people comment how it just didn't feel right without her there. I know she was there in spirit, though. You could feel her presence.
A couple of times, I had to go back into the kitchen to fetch this or that for some of the guests and it was impressive to see the assembly-line fashion with which these people served up the dinner plates. Shouts of "CORNED BEEF!!!" "CARROTS!!!" "CABBAGE!!!"
and "POTATOES!!!" echoed around the kitchen as the platers called for dinner components they were running low on. Carts with 20+ full plates on them zoomed out the door and into the dining room, only to be replaced with more empty carts ready to be filled.
It only took about 20 minutes to get plates of food to the approximately 500 guests. Even though I had been sampling the food all day long in the kitchen, I still dug into my plate of dinner when it arrived at my table...the food was THAT GOOD! If you've
never had corned beef with creamy horseradish (like I hadn't), I highly recommend that you try it! I've always reserved horseradish for regular roast beef or prime rib and, for some reason, never considered eating it with corned beef. It was fantastic!!
It was almost 10:00 p.m. by the time the evening ended (remember, we had gotten there at 7:45 that morning!) and we were exhausted, but happy. My fiance and I stayed the night at his sister's house and visited the beach the next day, where I found a perfect
sand dollar. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend. The event was a huge success, I made some new friends, and I learned THE BEST way to cook corned beef.
And, if you're nice to me, I just might share the secret!