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. I’m Irish and every March 17th, my mom cooks corned beef and cabbage, with a side of potatoes, and bakes Irish Soda Bread. I felt it was safe to assume that since St. Patrick’s Day is the only day of the year we eat this meal that it was a traditional Irish dish. To my surprise, corned beef and cabbage did not originate from Ireland — and the meal isn’t actually Irish at all. Here I’m going to share with you exactly what corned beef and cabbage is and why we eat it on St. Patrick’s Day.
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.
When the Irish immigrated to the U.S. 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 Rory Dolan’s Restaurant and Bar in Yonkers. They cook and serve corned beef and cabbage all year round and it’s never more popular than on St. Pat’s. According to owner Rory Dolan, his customers expect it.
In preparation for St. Paddy’s Day festivities, Rory Dolan’s typically cooks around 2,000 pounds of corned beef, serving between 1,200 and 1,400 plates during the Irish holiday alone. “I have a pot as big as a car,” says Dolan. If anyone knows how to make a good corned beef and cabbage, it’s these guys.