The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Toward a More Perfect Corned Beef and Cabbage

March 19th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Posted in Recipes


Did you make a traditional boiled dinner for St. Patrick’s Day? I wish I had thought ahead and corned my own brisket. That’s the best. We picked up a very reasonably priced piece of corned beef at the local supermarket. But when it came to prepare the dinner I had to pause over my memories of corned beef and cabbage that was just watery and flavorless. Is there a better way?

The problem, I think, comes with cooking the beef and vegetables too long in too much water. Leaning on my catering experience, I figured we could bring much more flavor to the table if we cooked the meat and the vegetables separately. A later check with my wife’s favorite kitchen reference, The New Best Recipe, revealed that the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated magazine had the same issues with the traditional boiled dinner and came to a very similar conclusion.

The only remaining question: which do you cook first, the beef or the vegetables? The cooks in the magazine test kitchen opted to cover the meat with water and cook it first two to three hours, or until a skewer easily pierces the thickest part of the brisket. They then used the broth to cook the vegetables. But the vegetables release so much water when they cook I decided to prepare those first, and I used chicken stock to cook them instead of water to further boost the flavor.

I chose from the usual list of vegetables–cabbage, carrots, parsnips, potatoes–but added leeks and a celery root we had bouncing around the fridge. My mistake was not removing the vegetables from the pot when they were done. I added the meat, and by the time it was done the vegetables were way overcooked. (I was smart enough to add the potatoes near the end, so they were saved.)

The magazine cooks like the idea of cooking the vegetables in the meat broth. But I’m sticking with my method until further notice: cook the vegetables au point in just enough chicken broth. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside, then place the meat in the cooking liquid, adding water only as needed to cover the brisket. Before serving, you can drain the meat, add the vegetables and hold in a warm oven, adding broth back to the pot as needed.

Although this hardly qualifies as a “one pot” dish any more, I think the extra steps are worth a mouthful of additional flavor and vegetables that haven’t been cooked to death.

What do you think?

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  • BenK

    Boiled dinner really benefits from practice. There are many ways to enhance it, but the easiest is to use uniform cuts of vegetables and a meat thermometer. Simmering the meat is great. Thermometer helps the timing. Then add the vegetables in a timed sequence to hit doneness together. A bit of trial and error helps as long as you chop the same way each time.

    Other helpful ideas make more work. However, you can pan roast the vegetables ahead and add to warm. Presoak reduces meat salinity and allows the use of already prepared stocks. Adding tendon brings gelatin without fat. Skimming can help, but some fat durung the simmer reduces evaporation and lubricates. Broiling the meat first brown a bit without the thickening flour needed for dryness in normal Browning which would create stew, not boiled dinner. It’s more like the English boil following a roast.