Written by Chef Alan Zox, email firstname.lastname@example.org Tuesday, 12 March 2013 00:00
Would it surprise you to learn that the dish that’s synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish in the U.S. is so rarely eaten in Ireland? In fact the Irish tell us that corned beef and cabbage is not an American dish at all; and, the Irish in Ireland don’t claim it as their own, says Malachi McCormick in Irish Country Cooking.
“[It’s a] New World dish…associated with many awful versions served in bars in the U.S.—washed down with plastic cups of green beer,” he writes.
There are many, I would wager, who might agree with this assessment. But regardless, corned beef can be wonderful if cooked properly, especially when shared with an array of delicious vegetables. I recommend Martha Stewart’s “Homemade Corned Beef with Vegetables” or Darian Allen’s “Corned Beef and Cabbage Feast.” Either of these recipes are well known, easy to make and delicious too.
Let’s talk more about vegetables and how they can add a special quality to a corned beef and cabbage meal that is delicious in its own right. First of all, I find it interesting but not surprising that carrots are often left out of many St. Patrick’s Day meals. Apparently this is because of the association with the orange Protestant connection. But it’s a shame to let a vegetable’s color stand in the way of making a beautiful mélange that includes carrots. If you don’t want to use carrots, try steaming or boiling the corned beef with one or more of vegetables as I’ve done below.
1 head cauliflower discarding green leaves
1 head celeriac large; peel like a pumpkin or apple with a chef’s knife.
1 large Vidalia onion, cut into thin rounds and sauté at low temperature until soft
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup buttermilk
1 whole garlic bulb, roasted for 30-40 minutes in aluminum foil
1 teaspoon cayenne red pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste
Roast the garlic bulb covered in aluminum foil for approximately 30-40 minutes at 450 Fahrenheit. Set aside. Check to see if it’s soft with the point of a sharp knife. Return to oven for 10 more minutes if not. Meanwhile, sauté the onion slices for 5-7 minutes at low temperature on your stovetop until soft—not brown. Remove sautéed onions from skillet and reserve.
Next cut the cauliflower and celeriac into 2-inch square pieces including the stems. Be sure to peel the celeriac first. Place drained vegetables into a large 4-quart soup pot. Add the 4 cups of broth to cover all vegetables – add an additional 2 cups of water if not completely covered in liquid. Bring all to a boil for 15 -20 minutes until a fork can easily be inserted into the cauliflower and the celeriac. Check the softness of vegetables at 10 minutes. The goal is not to boil the vegetables too long. Only boil long enough to cook till soft. Reserve 1 cup of liquid and discard the remainder.
Remove the cauliflower and celeriac from the soup pot after boiling and place into a roasting pan or a large metal bowl if you have one. Place in oven for an additional 12 minutes at 400 Fahrenheit until boiled vegetables are dry. This will make it easier to mash or puree the cauliflower and celeriac with an immersion wand or a hand mixer. Remove from oven, cover, and place in a roasting pan or leave in the metal bowl you found in your cupboard.
Squeeze garlic with the side of your chef’s knife into the large mixing bowl or roasting pan. Add the sautéed onions and all spices (nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper.) Add the cooked cauliflower and celeriac to the same container and add ¼ cup buttermilk. Begin to mash all ingredients with an immersion wand or a handheld electric mixer. The dish will begin to appear like mashed potatoes or better. Add the remaining buttermilk; if still too dry add 1-2 tablespoons of reserved broth. Use liquid sparingly.
Finish by pouring the pureed mixture into a fine mesh strainer or a ricer. Purée until you have a creamy paste. Using a soup ladle, push this mash through the strainer. (Some friends and family find this final step superfluous although it tends to make the mash creamier, they say. However, in the past I have omitted this straining step and the dish is still excellent.)
Add 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and a dash of sea salt and black pepper. Continue to whip a minute or two longer. Note that cauliflower and celeriac do not contain starch like potatoes do, so over whipping the mash will only make it softer and creamier. You are seeking a smooth mixture- but not a soup. The flavor is extraordinary so remember that it’s worth the time and effort—about an hour. Enjoy. Your guests will too.
Tip: It’s easier to make the dish if you can work with hot ingredients. If at any time you find the dish is too lukewarm, merely put it back in the roasting pan or into a metal bowl that will more easily retain heat, and reheat for about 10 minutes.