- Corned beef
Corned beef Origin Alternative name(s) Salt beef, bully beef (if canned) Creator(s) Many cultures Dish details Course served Any Serving temperature Hot or cold Main ingredient(s) Beef, salt
- Wet-cured in spiced brine products are more supple and tender due to the brining, and in modern times, is usually made from brisket or round steak.
- Dry-cured with granular salt beef is much drier and firmer in texture, even after rehydration, and can be made from various cuts of beef.
- Canned minced salted meat is ground salted beef that is crumbly and oily, and made from various portions of beef.
Due to the ubiquity of salting beef for preservation in many cultures, corned beef features prominently as an ingredient in many cuisines, including the Jewish, Irish American, and Caribbean cuisines. Corned beef is also a main part of the German dish Labskaus, well known during World War II and still served today in restaurants on Germany's Northern coast.
Canned corned beef is sometimes referred to in the United Kingdom as bully beef, which derived from the French term bœuf bouilli (boiled beef). In making corned beef, most manufacturers add potassium nitrate (saltpeter) or sodium nitrite to the cure to preserve the beef's pink colour.
Although the exact beginnings of corned beef have been lost to history, it most likely came about when people began preserving meat through salt-curing. Evidence of its legacy is apparent in numerous cultures, including Ancient Europe, and the Middle East. The word corn derives from Old English, which is used to describe any small hard particles or grains. In the case of "corned beef", the word refers to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef.
18th century Atlantic trade
Though the practice of curing beef was practiced locally in many cultures, the industrial production of corned beef started in the English industrial revolution. Irish corned beef was used and traded extensively from the 17th century to the mid 19th century for English civilian consumption and as provisions for the British naval fleets and North American armies due to its non-perishable nature. The product was also traded to the French for use in Caribbean sugar plantations as sustenance for the colonist, the slave labor, and for control of the slave population. The 17th century English and Irish industrial processes for corned beef did not distinguish between different cuts of beef beyond the tough and undesirable parts such as the beef necks and shanks. Rather, the grading was done by the weight of the cattle into "small beef", "cargo beef" and "best mess beef", with the former the worst and the latter the best. Much of the undesirable portions and lower grades were traded to the French, while better parts were saved for English consumption or shipped to English colonies.
A significant amount of the corned beef in the Atlantic trade was produced in colonial Ireland from local cattle and salt imported from the Iberian peninsula and southwestern France. Coastal cities, such as Dublin, Belfast, and Cork, created vast beef curing and packing industries, with the last city producing half of Ireland's annual beef exports in 1668. Although the production and trade of corned beef as a commodity was source of great wealth for the colonial nations of England and France participating in the Atlantic slave trade, in the colonies themselves the product was looked upon with disdain due to its association with poverty and slavery.
During the Irish Famine and the Great Potato Famine, raising cattle for production of corned beef to sustain the British Isle and Atlantic trade crowded out land for other agricultural development and prevented the raising of crops to feed the local population:The Celtic grazing lands of...Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries. The British colonized...the Irish, transforming much of their countryside into an extended grazing land to raise cattle for a hungry consumer market at home...The British taste for beef had a devastating impact on the impoverished and disenfranchised people of...Ireland. Pushed off the best pasture land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to the potato, a crop that could be grown abundantly in less favorable soil. Eventually, cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent on the potato for survival.—Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef
Despite being a major producer of beef, most Irish during this time did not regularly consume the meat product in either fresh or salted form. This was due in large part to its prohibitive cost in Ireland, the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British colonisers and not by the Irish, and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported. The lack of beef or corned beef in the Irish diet is especially true in Northern Ireland and areas away from the major centres for corned beef production. However, individuals living in these production centres such as Cork did consume the product to a certain extent. The majority of Irish that resided in Ireland at the time mainly consumed dairy and meats such as pork or salt pork.
19th and Modern
Although it ceased to be an important commodity in the 19th century Atlantic trade due in part to the abolition of slavery, corned beef production and its canned form remained important as a food source during World War II. Much of the canned corned beef came from Fray Bentos in Uruguay, with over 16 million cans exported in 1943. Even now, significant amounts of the global canned corned beef supply comes from South America.
In North America corned beef dishes are associated with traditional Irish cuisine. However there is considerable debate about the association of corned beef with Ireland. Mark Kurlansky in his book Salt states that the Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages that was the "forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef" and in the seventeenth century the English named the Irish salted beef, corned beef. Some say it was not until the wave of 18th century Irish immigration to the United States that much of the ethnic Irish first began to consume corned beef dishes seen today. One reason for the popularity of corned beef over bacon to the immigrated Irish was likely due to corned beef in their native land being considered a luxury product, but was cheaply and readily available in America. In Ireland today, the serving of corned beef is geared toward tourist consumption and most Irish in Ireland do not identify the ingredient as native cuisine.
The Jewish population produced similar koshered cured beef product made from the brisket which the Irish immigrants purchased as corned beef from Jewish butchers. This was likely facilitated by the close cultural interactions and collaboration of these two immigrant cultures.
In the United States and Canada, corned beef typically comes in two forms, a cut of beef (usually brisket, but sometimes round or silverside) cured or pickled in a seasoned brine, and canned (cooked).
In the U.S., corned beef is often purchased ready to eat in delicatessens. It is the key ingredient in the grilled Reuben sandwich, consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island or Russian dressing on rye bread.
Corned beef hash is commonly served with eggs for breakfast.
In both the U.S. and Canada, some corned beef is sold in cans in minced form, usually imported from South America.
Saint Patrick's Day
In the U.S. and Canada, consumption of corned beef is often associated with Saint Patrick's Day. Corned beef is not considered an Irish national dish, and the connection with Saint Patrick's Day specifically originates as part of Irish-American culture, and is often part of their celebrations in North America. In Ireland, the closest traditional dish is bacon and cabbage (more akin to Canadian style bacon or ham), as beef was considered a less desirable meat. Corned beef and cabbage became popular in the U.S. after Irish immigrants in the northeast used corned beef instead of pork in the dish. This substitution was likely due to the low cost of corned beef in the U.S.
Corned beef was used as a substitute for bacon by Irish American immigrants in the late 19th century. A similar dish is the New England boiled dinner, consisting of corned beef, cabbage, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes, which is popular in New England and parts of Atlantic Canada.
In the United Kingdom, corned beef refers to the variety made from finely minced corned beef in a small amount of gelatin (bully beef; from the French bouilli "boiled"), and is sold in distinctive oblong-shaped cans, just as in the U.S. and Canada, or in slices from supermarkets. It is mainly imported from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Bully beef and biscuits were the main field rations of the British Army from the Boer War to World War II. It is commonly served sliced in a corned beef sandwich. Hash and hotpot, in which potatoes and corned beef are stewed together, are also made. Tinned corned beef is also used in mainland Europe.
The U.S. version of corned beef is known in the U.K. as salt beef, and is available in cities with large Jewish communities.
The appearance of corned beef in Irish cuisine dates to the 12th century in the poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne or The Vision of MacConglinne. Within the text, it is described as a delicacy a king uses to purge himself of the "demon of gluttony". Cattle, valued as a bartering tool, were only eaten when no longer able to provide milk or to work. The corned beef as described in this text was a rare and valued dish, given the value and position of cattle within the culture, as well as the expense of salt, and was unrelated to the corned beef eaten today.
During the time of the Great Frost, a particularly cold spring drought in 1740 made it difficult to raise enough cattle for food or work. Many cattle in the south of Ireland died amid the harsh weather conditions. Cattle that survived and were suitable for food were exported to England.
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