Can you smell the cabbage? St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. That green, boiled, stinky vegetable is waiting for the stock pot. The bars are staffing short term labor, and restaurants will soon stock up on the brisket.
As a teenager I despised St. Patrick’s Day. I was the CBC, or Corned Beef and Cabbage, guy. With the green sweaters and goofy ties came the ritualistic sacrifice of one cook—me—whose only purpose throughout the seemingly endless shift was to plate corned beef, cabbage, carrots, beets and a piece of curly parsley.
One after the other, after the other, over and over again.
I have served CBC every St. Patrick’s Day in every restaurant I’ve ever worked in, for my entire career. I had a momentary opportunity to avoid it this year, however, fate has brought me back to that evil dish yet again. By the time this writing goes to print, I will be so sick of corned beef that I just might consider going vegetarian. The horror!
The funny thing is, after all of these years, I cannot recall one single time in my entire life that I have ever dinned on a boiled dinner, as the old timers call it. And yes, with the CBC comes my annual self-conscious need to tell people that I am, in fact, at least half Irish.
With that in mind, if for some reason or another you will not eat the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, I offer this alternative.
I often find the process of creating food as enjoyable as the act of eating it, so allow me to give a little back story. For two weeks I told everyone I knew that I had invented beer battered corned beef. The unlikeliness of this being true did not deter my shameless enthusiasm.
I was quite certain, as I made sample after sample, that no one had ever thought of this. Never mind that there are volumes of books and websites entirely dedicated to deep frying everything, and I mean everything.
It wasn’t until I had exhausted the original ego boost that came with my proud creation that I actually sat down and typed “beer battered corned beef” into an internet search engine. When I hit the “return” button, imagine my dismay, as I scrolled through page after page of my “invention.”
Anyway, here’s the recipe:
- To begin, prepare your mise en place (gather everything you need). This should include your deep fat fryer preheated to 350 degrees, or a pot filled with oil, should you be lacking this essential piece of equipment. Included herein is your corned beef, which you either bought, or brined for five days, boiled, cooled and trimmed.
- Prepare the batter by whisking together one part beer with one part flour. The measured amounts will change depending on how many people you are feeding. You may use whatever type of beer you have available, though a light ale is generally preferred.
- The flour can be the flour you have in the cabinet, or you can use rye flour or corn meal—or some combination of all—to give another level of flavor. Changing the flour may change the consistency of the batter; adjust accordingly.
- Add some whole grain mustard or some dry mustard to the batter, again, being careful not to change the consistency too much. Add some fennel, cumin, or your own spin.
- Reserve some flour to dredge, or coat, the corned beef before dipping it into the batter. I am always surprised by how little you actually need for this stage of battering.
- Cut the corned beef into strips, about a quarter-inch thick and a manageable length. The size is entirely conducive on the size of your fryer, plates, guests and whether or not you intend to use it as an appetizer or entree.
- Bring the batter very close to the fryer. Some cooks will create a drip area, for the inevitable mess that will result, by placing parchment paper or aluminum foil beneath the area where the meat will be transferred to the fryer.
- Dredge the pieces of corned beef in the flour you reserved and then dip into the batter. Allow your fingers to get dirty! As you remove the corned beef from the batter, allow the excess batter to drip off, but don’t obsess over this step.
- Slowly allow each piece to enter the fryer, so that it can begin to cook before it sinks to the bottom. If you neglect this step, it will stick to the bottom of the basket or pot and become very difficult to remove without damaging.
Cook the deep fried corned beef ’til it’s done. How long, you ask? Probably a couple of minutes.
But, as a professional chef, I cannot answer that question without breaking an unspoken rule in the industry. There is also a two minute rule. In the industry, if a server asks a cook how long until a certain table’s food is finished, the cook will have an automated response. Cook’s have very little understanding of actual time. They have what is known as “cook’s time.”
My default answer is always, “two minutes,” regardless of how long it will actually be. If something is very near completion, I will abruptly change my answer to “ten seconds.”
If I am in the weeds, or backed up, my answer will be “an hour.” That’s it. It’s either ready in two minutes, or ten seconds, or an hour. Can you appreciate a smiling server a little more now, knowing that even the simplest question will likely lead to aggravation?
As published in The Montague Reporter