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.

 

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Caron Golden

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Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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