Corned beef is a popular meat in lunches, as it is cost-effective, nutritious and tasty. Many people enjoy a good corned beef sandwich, but it is equally valid as a stand-alone dish.
It is a preserved meat cut with a long history of being used as ship food in both trading and wars, because it is far less perishable than fresh meat. You can find corned beef in Jewish delicatessens, but many general grocery stores in the US also stock it.
You may be wondering what part of the cow corned beef comes from. After all, not every piece of beef could be made into corned beef.
There are also some myths regarding which part of the cow ends up as corned beef, so we are keen to dispel these and set the record straight. Read on to find out the secrets of corned beef that they don’t tell you in school, so you can learn all there is to know about this intriguing food.
Simply put, corned beef is made from the brisket cut. This is the breast meat of the cow (or calf if you’re dealing with veal), and often contains a lot of muscle and other tissues.
Therefore, it is important that you know how to tenderize brisket properly by cooking it in the right way, otherwise it can be too tough to enjoy.
There are various ways to cook brisket that will achieve pleasing results, but the key thing is that you heat it long enough to allow the collagen to gelatinize in the process.
The requirement to be cooked slowly makes brisket the ideal cut for making corned beef, because the fat gradually melts and adds moisture to the meat. If it didn’t get this moisture, it would dry out too much during processing to make an appealing end product.
That’s because high quantities of salt solution are used to cure the meat, in a similar way to pickling foods.
Alternatively, corned beef can come from the round cut at the rear end of the cow, as this is another tough cut that works well for this purpose (although usually the round is only used in England and Ireland, where it’s known as silverside).
Both cuts eventually produce tender meat that tastes tantalizingly salty – this is the classic corned beef flavor you know and love.
How Is Corned Beef Made?
Once you’ve got your brisket cut, how does it then turn into familiar corned beef? What makes it different from a regular brisket is the curing process, where it is left to simmer in brine over a period of several hours or even days.
This is usually coupled with slow cooking the meat, but sometimes only one or the other is necessary.
Nitrates are used in many corned beef recipes to give it an appealing pink color, by changing the myoglobin protein into nitrosomyoglobin. They also prevent harmful spores that can cause botulism in humans, making it much safer to eat.
Some corned beef doesn’t contain nitrates or nitrites – in this case, the curing process leaves it looking almost gray. It is still perfectly fine to eat, but such ‘New England’ corned beef can put people off due to its color.
Where Did Corned Beef Originate?
Ireland has been a massive player in the corned beef industry for hundreds of years. The country started producing large quantities of the foodstuff back in the Middle Ages, and locals saw it as a luxury item that they couldn’t personally afford, so the vast majority of it was traded overseas.
They would often eat salted pork instead. In the 19th Century, there was a period where the Irish emigrated to the US en masse. Pork was very expensive to buy there, while corned beef was far more readily available than it had been back home, so this became their staple meat.
The corned beef that the Irish consumed in America came from Jewish butchers, initiating a blend of these two cultures.
This is why it is often thought of as both an Irish and a Jewish tradition – each has a slightly different way of preparing corned beef, but it doesn’t belong to one more than the other.
Various cultures in addition to these two have their own version of the dish, either subsequently to it being introduced in the US, or that they had come up with themselves beforehand.
Why Is It Called Corned Beef?
The name of this delicacy might be a source of confusion – there’s no corn in sight, so what’s the deal?
Well, the corn element of the dish most likely refers to the salt treatment, because large granular rock salt is used; salt grains of this type are known in the industry as ‘corns’.
Since salt plays a key role in preparing the beef in such a way that it can be kept for long periods of time, it makes sense that it is included in the name. Corned beef is sometimes also referred to as salt beef, which follows the same idea.
Bully Beef is the name given to corned beef that comes in a can. This is what the Brits and Australians think of when hearing the phrase ‘corned beef’, and is the minced variety that can easily be put into sandwiches.
It is suggested that ‘bully’ comes from the French word bouilli, meaning ‘boiled’, but it might instead be to do with the fact that one of the most famous brands that manufactured it had a bull icon on its cans.
Bully beef comes from the brisket just like regular corned beef, and it was used by the British army as a staple ration during conflicts like World War II.
Corned beef is made from the brisket, which is found at the breast and upper chest of the cow. This cut is tough and full of muscle, which means that it needs to be cooked for ages before it will tenderize.
Once it has done this, it produces succulent beef that will retain moisture even after being heavily salted. You can keep corned beef for far longer than fresh beef, making it an ideal food to stock in your pantry for when you need to rustle up a quick meal.
It has also been used throughout modern history to provide hungry soldiers and sea crew with tasty, nutritious dinners.
Today, corned beef forms an integral part of cultural traditions in Irish, Jewish and American cultures.