Irish Cuisine: Corned Beef with Parsley Sauce and Carrot and Parsnip Mash

Many Americans, when asked for a single example of an Irish dish, would name corned beef (recipe follows) in some form.  Here in the United States corned beef and cabbage is associated indelibly with St. Patrick’s Day; Irish immigrants allegedly adopted corned beef as a replacement for their Irish bacon that was suddenly a lot harder to find and corned beef and cabbage became a St. Patrick’s day dinner menu fixture.

More Irish dishes on The World Cup of Food:

Debate exists over whether corned beef is really Irish.  A reasonable explanation of corned beef’s origin is that residents of the English county of West Yorkshire began salt-curing their beef a few centuries ago (the word “corn” is derived from Old English, where it meant “grain,” as in grains of salt), but it is impossible to know for certain.  Wherever it comes from, according to Coleman Andrews in his massive tome The Country Cooking of Ireland, the Irish/not Irish debate is silly:

“A good many authorities these days take pleasure in announcing that corned beef and cabbage isn’t a real Irish dish at all.  Supposedly, it was developed by immigrants to the eastern United States in the nineteenth century…
I don’t believe that for a minute… The fact is that corned beef was eaten, with and without cabbage, in Ireland since at least the 1600s.”

Coleman Andrews founded and was editor-in-chief of Saveur, so his conclusion is precedent enough for us to include corned beef as an Irish dish.

Corned beef can be made from any cut of beef, but it is most commonly made in the United States out of brisket.  In other parts of the world it can be commonly found made from bottom round roast or even tongue.  Whichever cut of beef is used, it is cured in a brine of salt, sodium nitrate, and spices for at least a few days, then roasted slowly until tender.  We got our curing process from chef Michael Ruhlman’s excellent web site; the parsley sauce and carrot-parsnip mash come from Andrews’ book.

Corned Beef with Parsley Sauce

adapted from Michael Ruhlman and The Country Cooking of Ireland

MAKES ENOUGH FOR A 2-POUND CORNED BEEF BRISKET

For the brine:

  • A 2-lb beef brisket
  • 1 quart water
  • 6 Tbs sea salt
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp pink salt (sodium nitrate-containing salt mixture, also called Prague powder #1.  This is NOT that fancy Himalayan coarse salt, which is mostly just plain salt)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs pickling spice

For roasting the corned beef:

  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped into large pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into wedges
  • water to cover

For the parsley sauce:

  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs minced onion
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 3/4 cup of the corned beef cooking liquid
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • about 2 Tbs minced parsley
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

To start, the brine ingredients were combined in a bowl:

cornedbeefbrine

Pink salt was a little hard to come by.  We looked at all our local supermarkets to no avail, but we finally found some at a local specialty spice shop called Buck’s Fifth Avenue (they ship anywhere from their web site!) in downtown Olympia for about a dollar, which was enough to make several corned beef brines:

praguepowder

The beef was placed in a shallow square baking dish and covered with the brine:

brisketinbrine

The dish was then covered tightly in foil and left in the refrigerator to cure.  Sources varied on how much curing time is needed; Chef Ruhlman recommends five days so that’s what we did.  Five days later, our corned beef looked a lot different that those nasty pink goo-covered ones in the vacuum-sealed bags at the supermarket:

cornedbeefreadytocook

We were ready to roast some corned beef, so we started by preheating the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Next we prepared our roasting vessel of choice by first lining the bottom with the carrots and onions to create a platform on which our brisket would sit:

onionsandcarrots

The corned beef was placed on top (without being rinsed and leaving whatever spices on that happened to stick to it upon removing from the brine), fat side up, then the pot was filled with water to the level of the top of the vegetable layer:

cornedbeefinpot

The pot was brought to a simmer, covered, on the stove and transferred to the preheated oven.  Two-and-a-half hours later, the meat was fork-tender:

cornedbeefdone

The beef was removed and transferred to a convenient baking dish and covered with a plate to keep it warm while we worked on the sauce:

cornedbeefresting

For our parsley sauce, first we melted the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat:

butterforparsleysauce

Next the onions were added and sauteed until soft but not brown, about three minutes:

onionssofteningforparsleysauce

Next we added the flour:

flourforparsleysauce

…and stirred it thoroughly into the melted butter.  The flour was cooked for about a minute, stirring constantly, long enough to remove the raw flour taste.  Next we poured in the milk and corned beef cooking liquid, adding it all at once:

milkaddedparsleysauce

The sauce was whisked together until no lumps of flour remained, then simmered gently (stirring every couple of minutes to prevent the lumps from re-forming) for about twenty minutes until the sauce had thickened a little:

parsleysaucefinished

Once the sauce was done we were ready to eat!  The parsley sauce was ladled over slices of our corned beef:

cornedbeefsliced

We served our corned beef (topped with a bit more of the parsley sauce of course) with side dishes of carrot and parsnip mash (recipe follows) and steamed broccoli:

cornedbeefandparsleysauceserved

What was our conclusion?  Put simply, from-scratch corned beef brisket IS ABOUT A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN STORE-BOUGHT!  Using just a teaspoon of the pink salt meant that the minimum amount of nitrates were used in curing, instead of the presumably copious amount used in the vacuum-bagged version.  Further, we question where the nasty pink slime, so prominent in the bagged corned beef, even comes from.  There was absolutely no trace of anything even similar in our corned beef, and so nothing to rinse away prior to cooking or muck up our cooking broth.  Seriously, what’s the deal with that stuff?  Home-curing takes a little bit of (idle) time but is well worth the effort.  Paired with the parsley sauce, out corned beef meal was rich, salty, and most important delicious.

Carrot and Parsnip Mash

from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews

  • 3 parsnips
  • 4 carrots
  • a pinch each salt and sugar
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • minced parsley

First, the vegetables were peeled and cut into about one-inch pieces, then placed in a saucepan and covered with water and the salt and sugar:

parsnipsandcarrotsboiling

The vegetables were simmered until very tender, about half an hour, drained, and placed in the food processor with all the other ingredients:

carrotsandparsnipsinfoodprocessor

The mixture was processed until it formed a smooth puree:

carrotsandparsnipspureed

…and scooped into a bowl to serve:

parsnipandcarrotpuree

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2 thoughts on “Irish Cuisine: Corned Beef with Parsley Sauce and Carrot and Parsnip Mash”

    1. Thanks for the stamp of approval, Conor! It’s tough sledding ahead for whichever of Denmark or Ireland advances: India is next. Whatever happens, we’ve enjoyed making Irish food when we’ve had the chance.

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