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Shiftwork Bites: Corned Beef and Cabbage

A while back, I mentioned that a lot of my Shiftwork Bites menus have been drifting toward comforting, one-pot concoctions during what passes for winter in Houston. For the most part, that's held true. Every once in a while, though, I can't leave well enough alone.

Take the corned beef and cabbage dinner I made on shift a while back. I grew up eating this stuff. In my family, corned beef was not relegated to St. Patrick's Day, morning hash, and the occasional Reuben. It was a staple item, and always served the same way. My mom would plonk a corned beef in a big-ass pot of water, let it boil for a few hours, then toss in a quartered cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, and boil them until they were soft. Fish everything out, deposit it on a plate, and dinner was served. I loved it. It didn't hurt that it was always accompanied by freshly baked soda bread and good butter.

Myself, I like to do my corned beef a bit differently. It's a little more time- and labor-intensive, and brings the dinner firmly out of one-pot territory, but the gains in flavor and texture are worth it. For one thing, the beef itself is gently simmered as opposed to being boiled. This creates a tenderer finished product. Second, the veg isn't cooked in with the brisket, but done in a separate pan or two. This helps prevent overcooking of the vegetables, and offers the chance to introduce some additional flavor.

The idea is pretty simple. When the brisket is almost done cooking, you fry up a bit of bacon in a deep pan. Once the fat is rendered out and the bacon is crisped, you place your quartered cabbage in the pan, searing it in the hot bacon fat. Add a bit of the corned beef cooking liquid to the pan and braise the cabbage until tender. Feel free to add some carrots or other veg, and braise them along with the cabbage.

I cook the potatoes separately, as well, steaming them gently, slicing them while still hot, and tossing them with plenty of butter and fresh parsley. Slice the beef against the grain for tenderness, and pass the braising liquid, thickened with a bit of cornstarch slurry if you like, at the table. A fat wedge of bacon fat-seared and -braised cabbage, some tender slices of rosy and flavorful corned beef, and some properly cooked potatoes is truly a comforting meal. With only a few slight updates on the classic one-pot meal, it's even better than it was when I was a kid. Sorry, Mom. Now I just need to figure out how to bake soda bread in a microwave. . .

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