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Corned beef for St. Pat's: An American tradition

Corned beef and cabbage is served at the

Corned beef and cabbage is served at the bar at Sullivan's Quay Restaurant and Bar. (Mar. 11, 2012) Credit: Barbara Alper

What, exactly, does an Irish pub go through to get ready for the greenest day of the year? Read all about it here, complete with a list of six places on Long Island to get corned beef and cabbage.

Ever the contrarian, I’m here to add that corned beef and cabbage is actually an American dish. Back on the Old Sod, it’s bacon and cabbage for the holiday meal.

In Ireland, “bacon” doesn’t refer to smoked pork belly, as it does here, but is the general term for pork that has been cured in brine in much the same way that brisket is cured to make corned beef.

A few years ago I talked to James O’Donnell, then-president of the North American Irish Food Board. He told me that in 19th century Ireland, beef was a luxury that only the rich could afford. Most Irish immigrants to the United States would never have tasted beef, corned or otherwise. So how, I asked him, did corned beef and cabbage achieve its primacy among the Irish in America?

Johnson's best theory was that when the bacon-and-cabbage-eating Irish came to America, they found that beef was so plentiful, “they simply cured it in a similar manner to bacon and added that to boiled cabbage.”

Another theory I’ve heard notes the proximity in which Irish and Jewish immigrants found themselves, and posits that the Irish simply availed themselves of the corned beef around the corner at the kosher deli.


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