Nosh Box: As Irish as Kung Pao Chicken


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Homemade corned beef and cabbage with carrots and potatoes.

Brent Hofacker

Named for the Roman god of war, month-wise, March shows a checkered past and offers a mottled future. Julius Caesar was stabbed on the Ides of March. Despite this timing, the month of July—and not the salad—remains his principal namesake.

March has emerged as the center of the U.S. collegiate basketball universe. This month an annual bracketed tournament for 68 teams will crown a national champion through competitive elimination, aptly dubbed “March Madness.”

On the religious front, Easter sometimes occurs as early as March 22, and Passover often begins in March. Weather-wise, March is the first month of spring. As to festivities, it’s the month when Americans celebrate National Nutrition, Women’s History, Fire Prevention, the American Red Cross, and—on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day.

That date marks the traditional anniversary of the death of the Patron Saint of Ireland. According to the group-sourced, self-proclaimed luminaries at Wikipedia, “Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.”

In the U.S.A., the celebration is represented by a meal featuring corned beef and cabbage. However, this menu is a Yankee convention, with only the feeblest roots in the Emerald Isle. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “…what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes.” Seems the locals in Ireland much prefer bacon or mutton to corned beef—and they wouldn’t know green beer from pond scum.

Where to Find It

Retail–The most frequently encountered form of corned beef is the supermarket cryovac sack. These vacuum packed bags of beef brisket, either “flat” or point-cut, are sealed with the corning liquid right in the bags. Usually sold as supermarket loss leaders or traffic builders, they are a great value, although limited in size to a couple of pounds. They appear in the meat case about one week to 10 days before St. Patrick’s Day. The bags’ contents can be boiled, braised, slow-roasted, cooked in a Crock-Pot, or slow-poached sous vide style.

DIY— Corned beef is not difficult to cure at home, where quality control of the ingredients is easy to maintain. But beware: The final product will likely cost more than commercial alternatives. Start with a nonreactive vessel, made of glass, ceramic or plastic—even a plastic bag. Lots of recipes are available online for both the cure and the brine. A 5-pound beef brisket should be refrigerated during the weeklong curing.

Weber’s Quality Meats—Weber's is a wholesale meat cutter and processor, supplying some of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants, located in San Leandro, at 990 Carden St. (access from Doolittle Drive, on the other side of the tracks from Costco’s San Leandro warehouse). It also serves retail customers willing to pay cash, and pick-up orders at its plant on weekdays from 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Phone 510-635-9892 to order. Weber’s meat cutters cure their own corned beef and provide briskets that average 10 pounds. The price was $4.25 per pound when this story was filed.

St. Patrick Week Specials

Nico's 1508, now open in Berkeley, serves American farm-fresh cuisine prepared using mostly locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. During the week of St Patrick’s Day, chef/proprietor Munther Massarweh will serve slow-braised corned beef and cabbage, buttered carrots, and red potatoes with garlic-parsley-butter for dinner.

Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen in Berkeley serves a special corned beef platter with cabbage, potatoes, and a variety of delicious mustards during St. Patrick’s week. The restaurant/deli offers corned beef sandwiches on Acme rye every day, according to Saul’s publicist Emunah Hauser.

A Weekly Offering—On the east side of the Caldecott, stretch a dollar at the Rossmoor Diner, in the Rossmoor Shopping Center in Walnut Creek. This cozy eatery offers a corned beef special every Tuesday. For lunch there’s corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and vegetables for $10 when served before 3 p.m. After that time, a choice of soup or salad completes a dinner offering at only $13.99.

 

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