"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

First Time Irish: Corned Beef and Cabbage

by Julie on March 18, 2013

in Minor Miracles, Meat!

On St. Patrick’s Day, I traditionally toast my grandmother, Florence, with a quick shot of Bushmill’s whiskey. She died this day more than 20 years ago, and I still miss her, God rest her soul. She taught me how to wink and how to pour a beer, and to this day, both skills have served me well.

But tonight is the first time I’ve ever tried any sort of “Irish” cooking: Corned beef and cabbage, in honor of St. Paddy’s day.

They tell me it’s Irish cooking at its finest: Throw it in a pot, toss in some potatoes, and boil ’til dead. Not clear if I have to drink until I black out in the meantime, so I’ll hold off on that until further notice.

Sounds simple but still. I’m always one for making a mess of even the simplest of recipes. Plus, I don’t really know what to do with a huge chunk of meat.


Corned beef

And a brisket is a lot of MEAT!


I did a little trolling around the internets for basic background. I looked at this recipe, and this one, from New York Irish womenfolk who claim to know how to do it right. Then I asked around. Then I went out on my own.

Step one was to buy a corned beef. At, like Ralph’s. There’s a packet of peppercorns already included. The butcher gave me the option of the 5,000 calorie variety or the fattier 10,000 calorie variety. I chose the former. Because, while it’s true half my family is Irish, they settled in SoCal in the 1920s and so fatty cuts of anything have been long bred out of me.

Put it into a large stockpot. Cover with cold water. Salt and pepper and dump the packet of peppercorns right in there.

Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours.

Turn it.

Simmer it for another hour.

My friend Bruce Watson, writer and gastronome extraordinaire, impressed upon me that I could hardly overcook this thing. “Boil it until it’s falling apart,” he insisted. “I can’t stress that enough. Boil. Until. It’s. Falling. Apart.”

I can do that, I reasoned.

And still I questioned myself. I boiled this thing for nigh on five hours, until I could easily stick a prong through it, as advised.

What if I overcooked it?

I took it out with tongs and laid it on butcher block to “rest…” Then I threw in red potatoes and cabbage, per instructions.


Not terribly appetizing…

Bruce promised the fat and salt of the stock would flavor the potatoes and cabbage perfectly. What could I do but hope for the best?

Tip: Get a bigger stockpot

Tip: Get a bigger stockpot

The largest stockpot I own – an 8 quart stainless steel beauty, was not enough for the meat AND all the veg. At some point I had to scoop out potatoes and carrots and cabbage and hold in a separate pot.

My biggest fear: I’d cooked a hot mess…

wash down with beer

wash down with beer

It was a hit. Approved by all friends and family. Kept beautifully well for the Irish music concert/picnic the next day. And best of all, completely consumed.

Thank GOD. How bad do you have to be to mess up corned beef and cabbage?

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! (as Grandma Flo would say). Don’t ask such a thing.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce March 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Beautiful! I’m so proud!


JulieR March 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm

ahh, yum! It looks perfect!


Chris April 25, 2013 at 8:56 am

I love having a good corned beef and cabbage around St Patrick’s Day. We’re all Irish on that day, aren’t we? I loved your blog. I wrote one similar a few years ago while trying to win front row tickets to a Gaelic Storm concert.

Keep up the good work!


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