Corned Beef, what is it?

Written by Christi Sobel

March: the time of year for chasing rainbows, looking out for leprechauns, imbibing (or avoiding) green beer and making special St. Patrick’s Day recipes.

Luckily, the traditional Irish dinner of corned beef, potatoes and cabbage can all be sourced locally. But what is corned beef exactly?

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn as we usually think of it – a bright yellow vegetable that comes on a cob. Rather, the “corn” here is an old term referring to the large-grained, coarse salt used in preserving meat. Corned beef comes from the days before easy refrigeration or access to ice, when the best way to preserve a meat harvest was with large amounts of salt and some careful storage. This preservation method is associated with Ireland, where large quantities of corned meat were produced for export starting in the 1600’s.

Corned beef has had social and cultural implications ever since, and has been associated with things throughout history such as wealth, poverty, the Irish Potato Famine and absentee landlords.

Local corned beef is available at Ithaca Farmers Market from Marcia and Dennis Bauchle of Straight-Way Farm, located in Burdett. Their beef is pasture-raised and produced without nitrates.

The trick to cooking a cured-but-not-cooked piece of corned beef brisket is to go slowly. You can boil it, cook in a slow cooker, or bake it (after boiling to remove some of the salt). The result should be a soft, salty, sour, meaty protein. Serve with potatoes and cabbage, and then crisp up leftovers in a pan with potatoes for the ultimate breakfast of corned beef hash.

Another exceptional way to eat corned beef is in a Reuben sandwich. This classic is made with a generous portion of cooked and sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and is housed between two slices of rye bread. Assemble the sandwich, butter the outside and then grill until cheese melts. Eat it hot to warm your soul on a chilly March day.

Christi A. Sobel has been a market vendor since 2001 and is an artis in the medium of fine art, scientific illustration and design. She makes notecards, prints, limited edition etchings, original paintings, calendars, gift cards, paper jewelry, tiles and hand-painted shoes and belts. Find out more at christisobel.com.

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