Of Corned Beef and Cabbage

I was tipped off on the pendency of St. Patrick’s day when I noticed in our weekly circular that corned beef was on sale. Though my days of Guinness-inspired revelry are well behind me, there is nothing like sitting down to a plate piled high with cabbage, carrots, and corned beef that’s been slowly simmering on the stovetop all afternoon. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

When I was looking through the ad I noticed there were two options for corned beef: flat cut and point cut. Other than the fact that the point cut was almost $2.00 less per pound than the flat cut, I had no idea what the difference was between the two. So I googled it. And I found this fabulous explanation:

What does this translate to in terms of dinner? Well, first of all, brisket comes from the lower chest of the cow and the meat can be pretty tough. As the photo shows, the point cut has a huge ribbon of fat that runs through it, which makes for fantastic pulled or shredded beef but not-so-good for slicing. It’s also pretty unappealing unless you just love chewing through large chunks of fat in the pursuit of corned beef bits.

The flat cut, on the other hand, is much leaner with fat that’s more evenly distributed throughout the muscle and thus better for slicing. Since I’ve always had my corned beef sliced, and we’re more inclined to dine on a leaner cut than a fattier one, we got the closest thing to a flat cut that we could find at the store.

Learning about the cuts of corned beef piqued my interest, and a little more poking around on its history revealed that corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish at all, but a distinctly American dish that was adopted by Irish immigrants who were looking for a substitute for their beloved bacon joints.  Mind you, they weren’t talking about bacon as we know it today, but were in pursuit of a brined and hefty cut of meat, like Boston butt or pork shoulder. Evidently, corned beef from the Kosher butcher fit the bill and the rest is history.

So, there you have it! Our beloved St. Patty’s day dinner is actually an Irish-American adaptation of a Kosher cut of beef. And it never caught on in Ireland, either. It’s very much an American thing, and that’s just fine by me.


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