When I was in my late teens and early twenties, St. Patrick’s Day was about one thing: getting wasted. I remember one St. Patrick’s Day where my cousin and I took in the St. Paddy’s Day parade (CORRECTION below) going up NYC’s Fifth Avenue and then went off to drink ridiculously marked up Guinness. Somehow we made it onto the Long Island Railroad to go home to Bellerose, Queens. We woke up somewhere in Long Island and had to double-back home.
Now St. Patrick’s Day is about spending time with family, which of course means surrounding yourself with spirits (although in far more responsible quantities) and food. And in America when you think of St. Paddy’s Day food, you think of corned beef and cabbage, so that’s what we made alongside of that Irish staple: the potato.
It should be noted that the Irish do not consider corned beef traditional fare, as the Los Angeles Times noted this weekend.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the cattle raised in the country were often used for corned beef — which then went primarily into the mouths of British civilians and the British and U.S. military, according to Serious Eats. The Irish people were too poor to afford their own corned beef. They dined mainly on pork and lamb.
What this should be a reminder of is that food is inherently political. What you eat largely indicates your class and position in society. And in English Protestant landowner-dominated Ireland, my people were the equivalent of African slaves and were treated roughly the same. For instance, the Irish Great Famine is called the Great Hunger in Ireland because there was enough food, although scarce because of the potato blight, but it was exported by the colonial British for their consumption. During previous famines, ports were shut down so food would remain for local consumption. This, however, did not occur during the Great Hunger and tenant farmers, dependent on the potato for sustenance, paid the price.
Corned beef is a simple preparation. Fill up a large pot with water, throw in a pound of bacon, some quartered yellow onions, a head of garlic, two tablespoons of pickling spice, and two bay leaves. Let it come to a boil and then slide the corned beef, bought seasoned, into the hot tub for about ten minutes. Then reduce the temperature to a gentle boil and let it cook for about two hours. Then quarter the cabbage, throw it in the pot, and let the concoction cook for another hour. Three hours later, your corned beef and cabbage are done. Boiled meat: it’s what’s for dinner, but only once a year.
Give or take an hour before the corned beef and cabbage are finished prepare the potatoes. Preheat the office to around 400 degrees F. Then cut up the peeled red potatoes, around eight, and at least half a yellow onion. Spread these out on a roasting pan and season with a bit of salt and pepper and some garlic and onion powder. Afterward drench the potatoes in about two tablespoons of clarified salted butter and toss. Shoot them into the oven for about 45 mins but be sure to check on them and turn them a time or two.
And there you have it, a St. Paddy’s Day feast. The corned beef is moist and tasty, especially when you get a nice bite with a little fat and some spicy mustard. The roasted tatters and crispy onions plunged in a bit of ketchup are simple and delicious. The cabbage is, well, pickled cabbage but with a nice bacon flavor. Whenever in doubt, add bacon. (It’s really true, exhibit A: bacon ice cream.)
I picked up the 4.5 pounds of corned beef, a head of cabbage, two yellow onions, and red potatoes from Whole Foods for about $40. All told, this St. Paddy’s Day feast for four came in at about $50. And the leftover corned beef and potatoes were used to fry up a mean-ass corned-beef hash. Throw that on a toasted baguette and a poached egg with some ketchup in the morning or whenever you have the munchies and you’ll thank me.
CORRECTION: Yesterday, I got an anonymous call from New York instructing me that I had made one of the worst blunders anyone of Irish heritage can make: I referred to St. Patrick’s Day as “St. Patty’s Day” rather than “St. Paddy’s Day.” I had that immediate reaction we all do when we think we’re wrong, I lied to myself and said either shorthand would do. Alas I was wrong, dead wrong, and I thank that anonymous Mick from Gotham City for setting me straight. For those who actually care why “St. Patty’s Day” is wrong, read this very funny and fast tutorial. You’ll also learn it’s never polite to order an Irish Car Bomb, which is something I almost did drunk in a pub in Ireland once. But I think describing the drink was probably just as bad. The bartender knew what I was ordering and I’m sure she probably wanted to take the shot of whisky herself, throw the Guinness in my face, and just pour out the Baileys Irish Cream, because it is, after all, pretty nasty. And I would have deserved it. The ugly American: unfortunately, that is me.