Richie Vought

For me, corned beef is a special treat since I don’t eat much meat anymore. Year-round it’s the ultimate Jewish sandwich, sliced on corn rye and slathered with mustard, with some cole slaw on the side. But once a year corned beef, with cabbage and boiled potatoes, belongs to the Irish and is shared with all of us.

So, how did corned beef become corned beef? I went over to one of San Diego’s most prominent butcher shops, Iowa Meat Farms to speak with master meat cutter Richie Vought.

When Richie Vought was growing up, he used to visit his dad’s workplace, Stan Glenn’s meat palace in Chula Vista, a town near the Mexican border in San Diego County. Two memories stand out: the hot dogs that Glenn used to give away to kids and the line of wooden barrels in a corner of the walk-in cooler in the back, all holding large pieces of meat brining into corned beef.

Decades later, Vought, a second generation meat cutter (Dad was a meat cutter and Mom was a “butcherette” during World War II), works under Glenn at Iowa Meat Farms. And, those barrels? They’re no longer wood, instead your basic 32-gallon plastic trash cans, but inside is the beginning of a most delicious corned beef based on years of playing around with the brining recipe to replicate those flavors Vought remembers. Iowa Meat Farms and its sister shop, Siesel’s Meats, sell between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of corned beef a year, mostly around St. Patrick’s Day but they do carry it year round.

Corned beef got its name because the beef was preserved with coarse grains–or corns–of salt, going back hundreds of years before refrigeration. The technique could also be applied to pork. Brining has since replaced salt cures, but the name remains. Now, is it truly an Irish dish when paired with cabbage? The website Irish Cultures and Customs provides research that they say shows that it’s about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs; beef was just too pricey and pork was the preferred meat, particularly bacon joints. But Irish immigrants to the U.S. found that beef was cheaper than in the mother country. So the newcomers treated the beef in the same way they did the bacon joints, soaking off the excess salt, and then boiling or braising the meat with cabbage.

At Iowa Meat Farms, the process begins with trimming the large brisket of excess fat and separating the two overlapping muscles–the round and the deckle, or point.

The round and the deckle-raw

The round (left) and the deckle, or point of the brisket

Then they prepare a salt brine that includes sodium nitrate, phosphate, pink salt, sugar, pickling spices, garlic, and water. In go the pieces of meat with the brine into those containers to brine for six weeks. This breaks down the muscle and lets the meat absorb the brine’s flavors.

Brining

Once the meat comes out of the brine it’s ready for cooking. Here’s what you do:

  1. Place the meat in a pot, with just enough water to cover. If you want, you can add a few fresh cloves a garlic, but that’s really it.
  2. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender. Tender = inserting a fork into the meat and trying to lift it out. If the meat comes up with the fork, it’s still not ready. If it falls off immediately, it’s done. Vought tells me that it should take about three hours for a two-and-a-half-pound point and two hours for a five-pound piece of round.
  3. If you like to boil vegetables to accompany the corned beef, Iowa Meat Farms suggests that you cook the meat first and keep it warm in a low oven, covered with foil. Then layer the vegetables–potatoes, carrots, cabbage–into a pot with the potatoes on the bottom, covered by the carrots and then the cabbage. Then strain enough of the cooking liquid into the pot to cover the carrots. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook until tender–perhaps 30 to 45 minutes.
The round, cooked and ready for slicing

The round, cooked and ready for slicing.

 

The point, also cooked, and perfect accompanied by boiled cabbage and potatoes, slathered in Irish butter. Be sure to cut against the grain.

The point, also cooked, and perfect accompanied by boiled cabbage and potatoes, slathered in Irish butter. Be sure to cut against the grain.

Alternatively, you can cook the meat in an oven, placing it in a covered roaster and adding enough boiling water to nearly cover the meat. Tightly cover the roaster and place in a 350-degree oven. It should take roughly the same amount of time to cook. This is a good method if you have a particularly large piece of meat.

Now for serving. The smooth round makes for wonderful sandwiches. I pulled out a couple of slices of rye bread, slathered them with deli mustard mixed with horseradish and had a delicious lunch. At the shop, the folks used the point for their sandwiches and they looked equally good.

Corned beef sandwich

Vought told me his favorite way of preparing corned beef for his family is to blend together French’s yellow mustard, a couple of teaspoons of horseradish, and honey. Then he smears it over the top of the cooked corned beef and runs it under the broiler for about three minutes. You pull it out just as it starts to bubble and glaze. Let it cool, then slice and serve with cabbage, boiled potatoes, and butter.

Are you preparing corned beef for clients on St. Patrick’s Day? What’s your favorite way to serve it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

 

This week marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays. On Wednesday evening at sundown, Jewish communities around the world will welcome Rosh Hashanah–the New Year (the Hebrew year 5775). Ten days later comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is also a day of fasting. That day ends with a celebratory meal that breaks the fast.

gefilte fish

Gefilte fish

There’s hardly a Jewish holiday that doesn’t involve food–and foods specific to the holiday. Come Rosh Hashanah, celebrants will be sharing slices of apples to dip into bowls of honey to harken a sweet new year. Challahs, usually braided into a straight loaf for each Shabbat Friday night are still braided but shaped into a circle for the High Holidays. Most traditional Rosh Hashanah meals will include dishes like gefilte fish served with horseradish, chicken soup with matzo balls, roasted chicken or brisket, and perhaps an apple or honey cake for dessert. To break the fast at sundown of Yom Kippur, many Jewish families choose a  buffet of light fare–usually dairy oriented–with noodle kugel or cheese blintzes; salads; bagels, lox, and cream cheese (as well as white fish and smoked cod) on a platter with sliced tomatoes, red onions, and capers; maybe some chopped liver, pickled herring, egg salad, and lots of mini rye and pumpernickel breads.

Personal chefs with Jewish clients may find themselves asked to prepare holidays meals for them and their families. So, for those who haven’t much experience with this type of food we thought we’d give you some resources for planning a meal and finding recipes–including your own APPCA colleagues–along with discussions here on our forums that offer recipes.

APPCA member Shelbie Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service in Maryland grew up with traditional holiday fare. “We had matzoh ball soup, chopped liver (made with mayonnaise, not schmaltz–chicken fat–I come from a family of bad stomachs), and brisket in Lipton’s onion soup,” she says. “I’ve long given up on the powdered onion soup–too much salt!–and now make a brisket with coffee.”

Mrs. Ribakow’s Brisket
Courtesy of Shelbie Wassel
Serves 8

3 1/2 to 4 pounds brisket, first cut
2 medium onions cut into chunks
1 bunch celery, leafy tops only, sliced
1 large bay leaf
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup black coffee
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place brisket in the pan and sprinkle the top of the brisket lightly with more salt and pepper. Arrange onions and celery around and on top of the brisket. Drizzle with the ketchup. Roast meat, uncovered for 15 minutes to sear.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Add bay leaf and coffee, then cover tightly with foil. Continue cooking for approximately 2 1/2 hours longer. The meat should feel tender when fork is inserted in the thickest part.

Remove from oven and let cool before slicing. Refrigerate gravy and vegetables. Skim off fat.

To serve: Puree gravy and vegetables in a blender. Pour over sliced brisket. Cover with foil and heat through in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Add some kick to the dish by offering freshly grated horseradish on the side.

Tzimis

Tzimis

So, what would you serve with the brisket? Well, tzimis is a really traditional dish focused on roasted carrots and dried fruit. Do it right and each ingredient sparkles. Mess it up and you got a mushy mess. So, epicurious.com to the rescue with a contemporary tzimis recipe here. But you don’t have to go completely traditional. A great salad, a side of grains of some kind, and veggies all work great.

And remember, you’re probably also serving matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish even before you hit the main event. Let’s talk matzoh balls first. These are Eastern European Jewish dumplings made with matzoh meal, eggs, water, and a little fat. The goal is for them to be light (floaters) as opposed to dense (sinkers)–although there are some who prefer sinkers.

APPCA member Linda Berns of CustomKosher,LLC. in Maryland has been making her gramma’s recipe for matzoh balls all her adult life. It’s oh so simple. And, as Linda explains, according to Jewish lore, matzoh balls are eaten at Rosh Hashanah because they remind us of the cycle of life and change of season ushered in by the new year.

Linda Berns’ Matzoh Balls

Yield: About 8 to 9 matzoh balls

1 cup Streits matzoh meal (be sure to use the Streits brand)
4 eggs
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a liberal 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. While the water is coming to the boil, set a bowl filled with water next to the stove. You’ll use the water to moisten your hands while forming the balls.

When the water come to the boil, crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat vigorously. Add approximately 1/8 teaspoon salt to eggs and continue to beat. When the eggs are well beaten, add the matzoh meal and continue to stir to combine with the eggs. Your mixture should be sticky to the touch and not shiny.

Dip a hand into the bowl of water to wet it, then scoop out enough matzoh mixture to form into a dumpling the size of a large golf ball. Drop gently into the boiling water. Repeat until you’ve used all of the matzoh mixture. If your batter becomes too dry, stir in another egg and a little more matzoh meal to avoid having hard matzoh balls.

Bring the water back up to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and let the matzoh balls simmer for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll see your matzoh balls float and puff to approximately twice their size. Take care to not let the water boil out of the pot or your matzoh balls will stick together and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Once the matzoh balls are done cooking, you can add them to the chicken soup. You can also make them in advance and keep them refrigerated, covered so they don’t dry out. Add them to the soup pot as you heat it up on the stove. When serving, place the matzoh ball(s) in the bowl first, then ladle out the soup.

Photo from Linda Berns

Photo from Linda Berns

Here are some websites where you can get more recipes for both matzoh balls and the chicken soup. Be sure to cook them first, then add to your chicken soup. P.S., You’ll see Passover mentioned a lot in recipe notes–matzoh balls and chicken soup  are multi-holiday dishes.

Andrew Zimmern’s version in Food & Wine

Smitten Kitchen version

Bon Appetit version

As for the gefilte fish (also served on Passover), this is a dish filled with tradition. Like many Eastern European Jewish dishes it was a way to create a nutritious dish on a very limited budget. Back in the day, this dish was handmade with inexpensive white fish (often carp, mullet, or pike), ground and then mixed with onion, eggs, and matzoh meal–or other ingredients–and shaped into individual ovals. Then they’re poached, cooled, and served chilled with a side of ground horseradish. These days, most people simply buy jars of it and perhaps doctor it a bit by adding cooked, sliced carrots and onions. But our Shelbie makes her own and you can find her recipe here.

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Can’t forget the challah (egg bread)! Here we send you off to one of the best teachers of classic Jewish cooking–Joan Nathan. Our Caron Golden has been making challahs since she was a child, but when she saw this video of Joan Nathan making this challah, she converted. Try it; you’ll like it.

Round braided challah

In fact, for any of these dishes, simply Google the dish and Joan Nathan and you’ll get something splendid. Like her apple honey cake, which Caron made last year. You’ve got to try this!

Joan Nathan's Apple Cake

Now for Yom Kippur. You don’t really need to do a lot of major cooking since you want a gentle meal to follow a day-long fast. Salads are good–including a good tuna and/or egg salad. Pick up some rye and pumpernickel breads at a Jewish bakery, along with some challah, to put out. If you want to make chopped liver to create a real old-timey table, here’s a terrific recipe from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), which is more modern than what your client’s bubbe (grandma) probably made. For chopped liver, you’ll want crackers or broken pieces of matzoh to serve with it.

A classic treat for Yom Kippur (although you can serve this anytime of the year–except Passover) is noodle kugel. This is a sweet, rich casserole made with wide egg noodles, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. Some people like to add fruit–fresh, canned, or dried–to it and top it with everything from bread crumbs to ground up Corn Flakes. Caron recently published her family recipe on her blog San Diego Foodstuff, which is as traditional as it is simple to make–pure comfort food.

photo 4

Another favorite is blintzes–crepes usually filled with a soft cheese like farmer cheese or ricotta, but also fruit–commonly cooked blueberries or apples. We send you back to Smitten Kitchen for these.

These dishes should get you started and will certainly make your clients happy as they ring in the new year!

What dishes do you make for the High Holidays? What is a client favorite?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

 

 

 

 

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