Corned beef is an Irish-American dish we’re quick to associate with St. Patrick’s Day. As we near the middle of March, corned beef always rises in popularity and mentions of this delicious and comforting dish start to turn up everywhere. Corned beef is also popularly served with cabbage as a boiled dinner. It is also the foundation of the famous Reuben sandwich made with rye bread, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese.
But what is corned beef? And how is it made? Here’s everything you need to know about corned beef.
What is corned beef and how is it made?
Despite its name, corned beef has nothing to do with corn. Corned beef gets its name from the old English word ‘corn’ – corned beef was first coined by the British in the 17th century. The term 'corn' was used to identify a small piece of hard thing the size of a single grain, and all types of grains were also called 'corn', so when beef was cured, it was covered with large chunks of salt similar to oats or barley, so it was called 'corned'.
Corned beef is typically made from beef brisket – a relatively inexpensive cut of beef – cured in salt brine, with some pickling spices: bay leaf, peppercorns, mustard seed, juniper berries, coriander seeds, and whole cloves. Corned beef gets its characteristic sweet and tart taste from the brine. The meat will sit in the brine for a minimum of five days and up to 10 days – an essential step required before cooking.
Brisket is a boneless cut of meat made up of two muscles that support the animal's weight. The meat of brisket comes from an area - the lower chest of a cow – that gets a lot of activity, which makes the beef pretty tough. For this reason, brisket beef is usually cooked slowly.
Besides the brining process, corned beef requires braising, which means the meat will be cooked with some liquid over low heat for several hours. The brining process and the slow braising of the tough brisket result in very tender and flavourful meat.
As a consequence of the curing process, corned beef tastes different to the beef you eat when you eat a roast or a steak. When corned beef is cooked, it has a soft, tender texture and a pinkish hue throughout, with a balanced taste of salt, spice, sour, and meaty. The briny flavours are assertive but not overpowering, especially when balanced with earthy wedges of boiled cabbage and mildly flavoured potatoes.
People generally avoid corned beef because of the claims that it is unhealthy. Corned beef gets its vibrant pink colour due to sodium nitrite, a chemical compound that also adds flavour and helps inhibit bacterial growth. There is some controversy over sodium nitrite in curing meats, as the frequent consumption of cured meats is linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Corned beef's high sodium content could also easily exceed the recommended regular intake, which can be a severe health risk for blood pressure values.
Corned beef nutrition facts
A 3-ounce (85 grams) serving of cooked corned beef brisket provides 213 calories, 15.5 grams of protein, and 16.2 grams of fat. It also contains 827 milligrams of sodium. The following nutrition information is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Corned beef generally has a very scant amount of carbohydrates from sugar and flavourings used in its seasoning.
Beef brisket is one of the fattiest cuts of a cow. It’s not surprising that corned beef is high in fats.
While corned beef contains a certain amount of protein, it is not as highly protein-rich as other cuts of beef with lower fat content.
Vitamins and minerals
Corned beef is very high in sodium. Additionally, corned beef has a selenium content of 50% of the RDI and a vitamin B12 content of 58% of the RDI. The micronutrient profile is rounded out by small amounts of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and phosphorus.
Corned beef vs pastrami
Corned beef and pastrami differ primarily in how they're cut and processed. Both are brined cuts of beef, but that's all they have in common. While corned beef is typically made from brisket, pastrami is either made from a cut called the deckle – a wide, lean cut – or the navel, a smaller, more tender cut right below the ribs. The navel cut is a fatty one, which can also stand up well to the long cooking process. You won't find it as stringy as corned beef. However, pastrami can also be made from brisket.
After brining, pastrami gets brushed with a spicy mixture of black pepper, coriander, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds – this is what gives it its charred appearance. Corned beef has no spice mixture at all.
Corned beef and pastrami are cooked differently. Corned beef is either boiled or steamed, and cabbage and other ingredients can be included. Pastrami is smoked over hardwood, usually with a pan of water nearby, which creates steam and keeps the meat moist. Afterwards, it's cooled and then steamed before serving. Corned beef is either boiled or steamed, and cabbage and other ingredients can be included.
Corned beef recipes
Corned beef and cabbage
While corned beef and cabbage is typically associated with Ireland, its history is Irish-American. Bacon and cabbage was the original dish prepared in Ireland by frugal Irish farmers. It was made from local ingredients and nourished hardworking rural residents. Irish immigrants in America couldn't find back bacon, so they substituted corned beef for bacon. Despite its humble origins, the corned beef and cabbage dish leaves everyone at the table satisfied.
Are you wondering how to make a classic corned beefReuben sandwich? Sauerkraut, cheese, buttered rye bread, and corned beef are all the ingredients you need. The combination is simply satisfying and super delicious.
Corned beef with rye whiskey sauce
You can brine your own brisket instead of purchasing it already brined. Corned beef with rye whiskey sauce is easy to make. After seven days in the refrigerator, roast and baste with the most delicious whiskey sauce. It's perfect for serving with boiled potatoes, carrots and cabbage