Just how the heck is it “corned,” and when did a classic Jewish-American deli staple transform into a “traditional” Irish dish?
Even if you aren’t Irish, you’ve probably enjoyed, or at least heard of, corned beef and cabbage — a dish traditionally eaten on St. Patrick’s Day, and often served aside potatoes and Irish soda bread. Since this meal is typically only eaten on St. Patrick’s Day, most of us assume it is a traditional Irish dish. But guess what lads and lassies: Corned beef and cabbage did not originate from Ireland — and the meal isn’t actually Irish at all.
Corned beef is a cut of meat similar to brisket that has been salt-cured. The term “corned” comes from the usage of large, grained rock salt, called “corns” used in the salting process. Today, salt brines are more popular.
The dish’s popularity took shape during Irish immigration to the United States. Pork was the preferred meat in Ireland since it was cheap — if you’ve ever been to an Irish diner, you’ve most likely seen Irish bacon on the menu. In Ireland, cattle were expensive, so they weren’t slaughtered for food unless they were old or injured; they were important for milk and dairy production and farming. In contrast, beef was inexpensive in the United States.
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When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they often faced discrimination and lived in slums alongside groups like the Jews and Italians. It was at Jewish delis and lunch carts that the Irish experienced corned beef and noticed its similarity to Irish bacon.
Cooking the corned beef with cabbage was another choice based on cost efficiency. Even better, the entire meal could be cooked in one pot making the dish cheap, easy to make, and let’s not forget — tasty.
Looking to enjoy some corned beef and cabbage this St. Patrick’s Day (and don’t feel like cooking)? Maybe head to Mickey Spillane’s in Eastchester or Rory Dolan’s Restaurant and Bar in Yonkers, as these fine establishments cook and serve corned beef and cabbage all year round. St. Patrick’s Day revelers expect it and, really, if anyone knows how to make a good corned beef and cabbage, it’s these guys. Sláinte!