It's already well known that Americans take some liberties with the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebration—as local Irishman Columba McGlynn pointed out in , very few Irish will mark Saturday's holiday by chugging green beer or serving corned beef and cabbage.
But for those who like to stray a bit from tradition and are more inclined to celebrate Irish-American style, corned beef is a very appropriate dish. Nathan Thomas, head butcher at 's Redmond location, says corned beef actually has its origins in the homes of Irish-American immigrants, who would corn less-desirable sections of beef as a low-cost preservation method.
"Basically, corned beef is pickled beef," Thomas said.
March is a busy time of year for shops like Bill the Butcher, where customers stock up on meat for traditional Irish dishes like shepherd's pie and bangers and mash, not to mention corned beef. Each of Bill the Butcher's five Seattle-area shops is expected to sell approximately 40 pounds of corned beef between now and Monday.
It's no wonder the already-corned product is in high demand, as making corned beef from scratch calls for brining brisket in a mixture of salt, sugar and various spices for five to seven days. Terri Ann Johnson, Bill the Butcher's social media coordinator, says it is possible to do it at home—but you'll need a good amount of space in the back of the refrigerator (to avoid temperature fluctuations) and, of course, patience.
Once your brisket has adequately corned, either at home or in the butcher shop, it's ready for cooking. Many people just boil the meat, but Thomas recommends boiling for awhile, then slow roasting in the oven and adding cabbage and potatoes to the liquid the meat was boiled in.
"Boiled meat is not very good," he says.
Thomas will also be rubbing some of the Redmond shop's corned beef with pepper and other seasoning and then smoking it for eight to 10 hours to get pastrami. His version of the sandwich meat is so popular that the Redmond shop typically goes through 40-60 pounds of it on weekends.
"It's soon to be world famous," Thomas said.
Grass-fed corned beef will be available at each Bill the Butcher location beginning today or Thursday for $10.49 a pound. Johnson recommends calling your local shop ahead of time to confirm the meat is ready to go.
Here is Thomas' preferred recipe for preparing corned beef:
Butcher Nathan Thomas' Corned Beef (serves 4)
3lbs Corned Beef
3 Cloves Garlic, crushed
1t Mustard Powder
Water to Cover
8 oz Honey
8 oz dijon Mustard
2T Brown sugar
Simmer all of the above (except for glaze ingredients) on medium heat for 3 hours. Take beef out of water and place on a foil-lined pan, saving the water to simmer potatoes, carrots and cabbage in. Place in oven and cook for 3 hours at 275 degrees. At the last hour, pour glaze evenly over the top of the beef.
Brine to turn brisket into corned beef (for those adventurous enough to try it at home)
For 5lbs of beef brisket:
1 T allspice
1 T cloves
1 T coriander
1 T crushed red chile flakes
1 T mustard seeds
1 T whole black peppercorns
5 bay leaves, crumbled
1 1/4 cups kosher salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup sugar
1 T pink salt
Toast the spices & bay leaves, then bring to simmer with rest of ingredients with 8 cups of water. Bring brine mixture to room temp, add brisket and refrigerate for at least five days.
Johnson recommends the following shepherd's pie recipe from finecooking.com: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/lamb-shepherds-pie.aspx
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect figure for the amount of time Thomas spends smoking the pastrami. The process typically takes eight to 10 hours.