Corned beef and cabbage—a beloved St. Patrick’s Day dish—is about as native to Ireland as I am. Although corned beef and cabbage is now consumed in Ireland, it is not the national dish that many people believe it to be.
This one-pot wonder is an adaptation of the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage, something I enjoyed on multiple occasions during my culinary internship in Ireland. I was intrigued to find out that Irish-Americans mimicked their new Jewish neighbors and used the cheaper salted (corned) beef in place of their traditional piece of bacon. As a result, another contribution to the American melting pot was created.
With its one-pot wonder status firmly established, it makes great sense to adapt this to the slow cooker.
WHAT IS CORNED BEEF?
Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brined to cure (or preserve) it in pickling spices, salt, and nitrates (the nitrates also give it an appealing color). When shopping for your corned beef, look for brisket flats, which are the more tender, less fatty cuts.
HOW TO SHOP FOR CORNED BEEF
- A three-pound brisket is ideal, as it will shrink during cooking. If you plan to feed more than six people, choose a larger brisket.
- Make sure your package of brisket says “cured” so you don’t have to meddle with the curing process on your own. If you’ve accidentally picked up an uncured brisket, or would like to try your hand at curing your own beef, here’s how to cure beef at home.
- Save the spice packet! It’s also important to purchase a package of corned beef that includes a spice packet. While most corned beef is full of flavor on its own, the spice packet pumps up the taste of the overall dish. It most often contains bay leaves, black peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
WHY MAKE SLOW COOKER CORNED BEEF
Do you have a couple of hours for me to extol the virtues of making your corned beef and cabbage in the slow cooker? No? Ok, here are just a couple!
- It’s consistent! Slow cookers keep a steady temperature throughout their cooking, so you don’t need to worry about a fluctuation in heat. This is important because brisket is a notoriously tough piece of meat, one that needs to be cooked low and slow.
- It’s hands off! Being able to throw the corned beef into your slow cooker before getting started for the day and having it cook without babysitting is another benefit to using this method. It is possible to overcook corned beef in the slow cooker, but it would take a few extra hours for that to happen. Stick with the eight hours of cooking time.
BEST VEGETABLES FOR CORNED BEEF
As the name indicates, cabbage is the ultimate pairing when it comes to corned beef. I prefer to use green cabbage, because I can find it easily, and it’s the least expensive cabbage to cook with. Savoy cabbage is another great option, if you can find it.
The use of carrots in this recipe cuts the bitterness of the cabbage. A rough chop, leaving pieces that are two inches thick, will leave you with tender carrots that aren’t mushy at the end of cooking.
New red potatoes, also called baby red potatoes, are preferred because they’re not overly starchy, are small enough to cook in two hours, and give a bit of color to the finished dish. Yukon gold or russets are good substitutes if you cut them no larger than two inches to ensure they cook through. No need to peel your potatoes—just give them a thorough scrubbing before cutting.
WHEN TO ADD VEGETABLES TO THE SLOW COOKER
Add the vegetables two hours prior to serving the corned beef and cabbage. Adding them towards the end of the cooking time preserves their texture and some of their color.
Never fear, though! If you arrive home too late to add the veggies, toss them onto a lightly-greased sheet pan and roast in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes. Once they’re fork-tender, add them to the slow cooker. Thanks to the stock created by the corned beef, the veggies will taste as though you’d simmered everything all together.
HOW TO SERVE THE CORNED BEEF
After the corned beef has finished cooking, you only need to lift it from the pot with a pair of tongs and slice it across the grain. The meat has what looks like subtle ridges—that’s the grain. Slice the meat perpendicular to those ridges to get the most tender slice of corned beef. Arrange the corned beef on a serving platter, or transfer it back to the slow cooker to keep it warm.
Corned beef and cabbage is a simple dish that is best served straight from the pot. The only way it can possibly be made better is by spreading a dollop of whole grain mustard over your slices of beef.
STORING AND REHEATING LEFTOVERS
Leftovers may be stored in the fridge for up to three days and reheated in the microwave or oven until warmed through.
My favorite way to repurpose leftovers, however, is in a classic Reuben sandwich: slices of corned beef topped with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, served on dark rye bread and smeared with thousand island dressing.
HERE ARE MORE WAYS TO LOVE YOUR SLOW COOKER!
Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe
- 3 to 3 1/2 pounds cured corned beef, with spice packet
- 1 medium white onion, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 3 cups of water
- 1 1/2 pounds new red potatoes, washed and chopped into 2-inch chunks
- 1 medium (about 1 1/4 pounds) green cabbage, cut into sixths
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch slices
- Whole grain mustard, for topping
- Slow Cooker
1 Prepare the corned beef: After removing the corned beef from the bag, rinse it under cold water to rid it of any remaining brine. Then place the brisket into your slow cooker, fat side up. Sprinkle the contents of the spice packet over the brisket and add the onion and garlic. Pour the water over the brisket and cook on low for 8 hours (or on high for 4 hours).
2 Add the vegetables: With 2 hours of cook time remaining (or 1 hour if cooking on high), carefully remove the corned beef from the slow cooker to a plate. Add the cut potatoes to the bottom, then return the brisket to the slow cooker. Nestle the cabbage pieces and carrots around the beef and cover. Continue to cook the corned beef for 2 hours if you're cooking on low (or 1 hour if on high).
3 Slice and serve: Once the potatoes are fork tender and a piece of brisket easily flakes off when pierced with a fork, carefully remove the corned beef from the slow cooker to a cutting board, using a pair of tongs. Slice the brisket 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, against the grain.
Transfer to a serving platter and arrange the cabbage, carrots, and potatoes around it. You can also return the corned beef slices to the slow cooker to keep warm and serve directly from the pot.
Top with whole grain mustard, if desired.
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