Key Ingredient

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Corned beef

Serve corned beef with cabbage and carrots.

Among Americans, the most popular meal on St. Patrick's Day is corned beef and cabbage. This peasant dish is an important aspect of celebrating Irish roots, but don't confuse fresh corned beef with the canned stuff.

The basics: Corned beef is made from tougher cuts of beef such as the brisket, rump or round. Traditionally it was "corned," or put through a curing process that involved dry-curing the meat using coarse "corns," or granules of salt.

Today the meat is cured in a brine solution that also includes pickling spices such as peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander, allspice and mustard seeds, giving it its distinctive flavor.

Corned beef was traditionally served as the Easter Sunday dinner in rural Ireland after the long meatless Lenten fast. But over time it came to symbolize Irish heritage for Irish Americans, who incorporated corned beef into the St. Patrick's Day celebration.

Corned beef can be a bit salty for those watching their sodium intake.

Selecting: Fresh corned beef is sold alongside other beef products in the fresh meat section of most supermarkets. It is available today in ready-to-cook 1-to-5-pound pouches. Observe "sell-by" and "use-by" dates when purchasing.

Storing: Generally, unopened pouches can be stored in the refrigerator up to a week. Cooked corned beef kept refrigerated should be good for three to four days and can be frozen for a couple of months.

Use: Because corned beef is made from tougher cuts of meat, it requires long, moist cooking. Corned beef and cabbage is an ideal recipe because it involves simmering the beef in stock for hours.

The USDA recommends that corned beef be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which generally amounts to an hour of cooking per pound.

Let the cooked brisket stand about 10 minutes for easier slicing. And always cut diagonally across the grain. Leftover corned beef makes great sandwiches and hash.

Where to buy: Fresh corned beef is available year-round, but is most abundant now. Prices range from $2 to $3 a pound, but look for good sale prices this week and next.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
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