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Corned beef and cabbage: Ireland says, no, thank you

March 17, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Corned beef has a long history in Ireland -- it's just that the Irish have never eaten much of it.
Corned beef has a long history in Ireland -- it's just that the Irish… (Meat Board Test Kitchens…)

It's St. Patrick's Day, so naturally we think of corned beef and cabbage. It's a dish that's as Irish as pepperoni pizza is Italian and chop suey is Chinese.

In other words, not very Irish at all.

The Irish writing duo of Belfast-born Peter Morwood and former New Yorker Diane Duane tackle this subject at their European Cuisines website.  People "here," meaning Ireland, "sometimes eat corned beef and cabbage," they say. But "they don't eat it all that much" -- and almost never for St. Patrick's Day.

PHOTOS: St. Patrick's Day fare

Some restaurants in Ireland will serve corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day -- but "almost without exception" those eating it will be tourists.

Corned beef and cabbage, the pair say, is far from the Irish national dish. It's not that corned beef doesn't have a history in Ireland; it's just that Irish people weren't the ones eating it.

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.

But these days, most native Irish people, say residents Morwood and Duane, find corned beef and cabbage to be "too poor, plain, old-fashioned or boring ... or just too much trouble to go to."

Although corned beef is not difficult to make, it can be time consuming.  An L.A. Times recipe for some delicious-sounding New England-style corned beef, cabbage and vegetables with horseradish mustard cream takes about 3 1/2 hours of total preparation time.

Worth it? That's for the cook to decide.

You could just order a pepperoni pizza. Pizza has its roots in Italy but it's Americans who love the pepperoni. In fact, if you were to order pepperoni pizza at an Italian pizzeria (that wasn't a tourist spot), you'd probably get red-bell-pepper pizza. As About.com says, pepperoni means "pepper" in Italian.  If you wanted pepperoni, you'd have to ask for salame piccante.

Still, notes the PizzaMaking.com forum, "salami still isn't pepperoni, and in this case it appears the Italians are copying us and not the other way around."

What about chop suey? According to one tale, the dish was first tossed together from kitchen scraps in a San Francisco restaurant in the late 19th century. Other sources debunk that story and say that chop suey springs from the basic mixed stir fry that originated in the Pearl River Delta of southern Guangdong, China. 

But chop suey, like pepperoni pizza and corned beef and cabbage, was thoroughly Americanized.

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-- Amy Hubbard

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