Corned beef

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Corned beef is a salt-cured or brined preparation of, most often, beef brisket although the rump or round may be used. "Corned" refers to the "English use of the word 'corn,' meaning any small particle (such as a grain of salt)."[1] While the cut may have fat on the outside, the inner part is relatively lean, and of a deep pink color. Depending on the processing, other chemicals, such as sodium nitrite, and spices may be used in treating the meat.

Two types of corned beef are available, depending on the butcher and the region. Old-fashioned corned beef is grayish-pink in color and very salty; the newer style has less salt and is a bright rosy red. Much corned beef is now being made without nitrites, which are reported to be carcinogenic.[2]

Although it is now often thought of in the United States as being of Irish origin, with dishes such as long-cooked corned beef and cabbage, this is not the case.[3] The so-called New England boiled dinner was an American staple for centuries before the first Irish immigrants in New York City became associated with the dish. As the well-known American cook and historian, James Beard, writes:

For generations of Americans the drying, smoking, and corning of meat was essential to having meat on hand through the winter. The favorites for corning were pork and beef... and corned beef became one of the most popular of all meat dishes.[4]

Corned beef is a staple of New York Jewish delicatessens, where is served along with the somewhat fattier Eastern European pastrami, but it is also available in delicatessens throughout the country The Reuben sandwich, generally made with corned beef, is also associated with New York City. In England a preparation similar to corned beef is known as salt beef or salted beef.

Beard gives a recipe typical of the 19th century for the preparation of corning a large amount of beef:

"Cut up a quarter of beef. For every hundredweight take half a peck of coarse salt, quarter of a pound of saltpeter, the same weight of saleratus, a quart of molasses, or two pounds of coarse brown sugar. Mace cloves and all spice maybe be added for spiced beef. "Stew some of the salt in the bottom of a pickle tub or barrel; then put in a layer of meat and salt and meat alternately until all is used. Let it remain one night. Dissolve the saleratus and saltpeter in a little warm water, and put it to the molasses or sugar, then put it over the meat, add enough water to cover the meat, lay board on it to keep it under the brine. The meat will be fit of use after ten days.[5]

References

  1. The New Food Lover's Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst, Barron's, Hauppauge, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-8120-1520-7, page 150
  2. The New Food Lover's Companion, Sharon Tyler Herbst, Barron's, Hauppauge, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-8120-1520-7, page 150
  3. Robert Dirks (May 2007), Irish Americans and Corned Beef
  4. James Beard's American Cookery, James Beard, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 70-165755, page 302
  5. James Beard's American Cookery, James Beard, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 70-165755, page 302–03