March is predictably unpredictable; spring may officially arrive on March 20 in the northern hemisphere, but the day could be brilliantly sunny or beset by a blizzard. Yet we can predict one thing about March: come St. Patrick’s Day, even those who shun beef 364 days a year have been known to partake of corned beef — usually with its accompanying cabbage and potatoes. It’s one of those guilty pleasures, we figure, like burgers at Five Guys once in a while or a steak on the grill on that perfect summer evening.



Even though corned beef is as traditional on March 17 in New England as green beer, corned beef and cabbage is not a tradition in Ireland. Canned corned beef was a World War II staple among civilians and the troops in Europe and the U.K., because fresh meats were hard to come by. But bacon and cabbage with potatoes is more typical in Ireland, where the bacon is not at all like American bacon; it is usually cured or brined pork loin, similar to what we’d call Canadian bacon. The tradition of corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day began on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where many Jewish immigrants were butchers, but pork wasn’t kosher. The cured meat of choice was beef brisket, so Irish immigrants followed the Jewish and switched to corned beef. Thus the fusion of Irish-Jewish-American corned beef dinner was born.



This year we’d planned on making our own corned venison, eschewing the tough, overly preserved offerings found elsewhere. While we never got around to it, we did read up on corning, which seemed slightly exotic, and found it to be largely the same as brining or sweet pickling, just another way of preserving meats in the time before widespread refrigeration, along with smoking, canning and dry-curing. With venison, as with beef, the corning renders a tougher cut of meat more tender and the spices added to the brine give it a memorable flavor.



It’s not that difficult to corn your own beef or venison, and it’s one way of guaranteeing that your meat will be organic, if that’s important to you. A five-pound beef brisket or sirloin tip venison roast, both are treated the same. In a large pot place a half-gallon of water (preferably spring or distilled), 1 cup sea salt, 12 cup brown sugar, five tablespoons pickling spice, one large head of garlic, chopped, three bay leaves, crumbled, a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, and three teaspoons of Instacure, which is a nitrite used for curing meats. If you prefer not to use the Instacure, you can use celery juice powder, a natural form of nitrite instead, adding it to the brine later.



In an eight-quart pot mix the water with salt, sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add two more quarts of water to cool. Add the celery juice powder now if you’re using it, and let the brine finish cooling in the refrigerator. After it’s cool, place the meat in the cooled liquid and weigh it down with a plate so it remains covered by the liquid. Cover container and place in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, turning every day or so.



To cook your corned beef, remove it from the brine and rinse under cool water. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it and cover with water or a good beer and one of the ginger beers. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat down until it is lightly simmering. Cover and let cook until you can easily insert a fork into the meat, about three hours, adding water if needed to cover the meat. When meat is done, remove it from the pot and place it, wrapped in foil, in a roasting pan in the oven. Then add your chosen vegetables — cabbage, carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips — to the remaining liquid and cook until tender.



We never seem to have a lot of corned beef left over, but should you find you have a couple of cups, make the perfect breakfast hash.

Breakfast Hash

2 cups corned beef
2 cups cooked, leftover potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 eggs
2 teaspoons bacon fat, butter, or cooking oil
12 cup broth from corned beef and cabbage or water
Chop the meat and potatoes into 1⁄2-inch cubes.In a large bowl, beat one of the eggs with a fork, then add corned beef, potatoes, onions, garlic, broth or water and mix lightly. Preheat a heavy frying pan to high and coat with the desired fat. Add the hash mix and pat it down with a spatula into a large patty. Cook until set. With the spatula, flip the mixture over. Crack the remaining eggs and lay them on top of the hash. Turn down heat, cover, and cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still wobbly.