New England Boiled Dinner


Ah yes, the celebration of winter vegetables combined with the early spring treat of Corned Beef, traditionally at its peak of popularity around St. Patrick’s Day.

The Academy Awards are close enough to March 17, so that corned beef is readily available. We like to have folks over for the Oscars in order to share catty remarks and ooohhh and aaahhh, make fun of folks and generally enjoy one another’s company. This year there will be four of us. I’m making a New England Boiled Dinner and planning for leftovers for Corned Beef Hash.

I did a little history research on Wikipedia, the open source encyclopedia.

New England Boiled Dinner is a one-pot meal native to New England which contains various ingredients such as corned beef, cabbage, carrots, turnips and potatoes. Common condiments include horseradish, mustard, and vinegar. The dish is representative of the cultural heritage of the region, notably that of the Irish.

Corned Beef is named due to a coarse salt used in the pickling process. Corn originally meant grain, as in a small particle of something, and referred to the corns of salt. In the middle ages the Irish used this for salting beef and pork, and from this corned beef was thought to originate.

I checked some cookbooks, as well. It just happened that the Cook’s Illustrated (CI) web site has a *free* Home Corned Beef recipe and says you can do it yourself in just five minutes prep time. Yeah, uh huh, but get a load of Instruction 2: Spear brisket about thirty times per side with meat fork or metal skewer. Rub each side evenly with salt mixture; place in 2-gallon-size zipper-lock bag, forcing out as much air as possible. Place in pan large enough to hold it (a jelly roll pan works well), cover with second, similar-size pan, and weight with two bricks or heavy cans of similar weight. Refrigerate 5 to 7 days, turning once a day. Who has space for that? Well, I don’t. But the ingredients are simple, and could easily be assembled in five minutes: kosher salt, cracked black peppercorns, ground allspice, dried thyme, paprika and crumbled bay leaves.

In Michael Rhulman’s new book, Charcuterie, there is a recipe employing brining. This uses water, kosher salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic and pickling spice; and while it calls for 5 days in the refrigerator, arrangements could be made for a pot. No pressing or turning. Trouble is, our Oscars dinner is tomorrow.

What do my cooking mentors of Boston days have to say?

Julia Child, in Julia Child & Company (1978) has a recipe very similar to that of CI (I should say, CI’s is similar to Julia’s), but rather than laying flat and weighting with an inverted pan and a brick, she puts it in a plastic bag in a bowl, weighted with a plate and massages it once a day. I like the massage part, gets you in touch with your meat.

James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking (1977) starts with corned beef and concentrates on getting that and the vegetables cooked properly. This has been my default recipe since Boston. I’ll try the cure-it-myself method another day. So I went shopping.

Safeway has three brands of corned beef in colorful plastic bags in their self-serve meat case. They’re each about 3 pounds, flat cut, spice packet included; Rancher’s Reserve (the Safeway brand), Shenson and Butcher’s Cut. The latter package says in large print; “Tenderized with papain, Including sodium phosphate, sodium nitrite, sodium trythorbate and flavorings.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to eat something I can’t pronounce. No thanks.

I went to Golden Gate Meat Company and spied a beautiful corned beef in a clear plastic bag, replete with pickling spices, and possessing that shimmering quality that the really good corned beef that I’ve had possesses. The butcher weighed it, 4 1/2 pounds. Hmmm, a little big. “How much do you want?” We’re having only four for dinner and the Oscars, “Three pounds.” He cut it and wrapped it. I like that.

My way:

I put my corned beef in a suitable pot, covered it with cold salted water and brought to a boil. The last few minutes before boiling, I skimmed off the grey, foamy scum that rises to the surface, so the broth is clear. I added a whole, peeled onion stuck with three cloves, 8 large peeled garlic cloves and a tablespoon of cracked peppercorns. This will simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, until easily pierced with a straight meat fork. It can rest in its liquid when its done, in case the vegetables aren’t ready. Save some of the cooking broth for the table and some for the hash.

I like to cook the vegetables in their separate pot in salted water; they can be cooking while the meat is cooking. This way, I can add the corned beef broth at the table, rather than cook that flavor into everything. (CI cooks the meat and holds it in the oven while the vegetables are cooked in the broth.)

I cooked one of each of the vegetables for each person, plus “one for the hash;”

5 medium onions, peeled
5 medium yellow finn potatoes, peeled
5 good sized carrots, scraped and split
5 each baby white and red turnips, scrubbed, with their tops cut to 1/2-inch 5 parsnips, peeled
1 medium cabbage, quartered.

Get out your largest pot and fill about 2/3 full with cold salted water. While the water is coming to a boil, let’s think about timing: the vegetables need to cook for different lengths of time in order to come to “stick with a paring knife” doneness all together.

Onions longest, cabbage shortest. I’m a timer guy, so I set one timer to 50 minutes (for how long the onions will cook) and another timer to 25 minutes (time until I add the carrots and potatoes).

At the boil, add the onions and start both timers. Bring to a simmer, covered. When the second timer goes off, add the potatoes and carrots and reset the timer to 10 minutes. When that goes off, add the turnips and parsnips, reset to 5 minutes.

At that ding, add the cabbage. Ready in 10 minutes.

Slice your corned beef and arrange it on your largest platter, with the vegetables. Drizzle the whole thing with some of the broth. The corned beef smells great, the vegetables look great and we’re ready for some good eating.

On my plate, I like to have plenty of broth with the meat and vegetables, then I smoosh the potatoes into the broth for each bite. Oh yes! But that’s me.


Corned Beef Hash
This is a moist hash, rather than a crispy hash, as we’re starting with fully cooked vegetables. Chop all of your leftover corned beef and vegetables (except cabbage, if any was left) into half-inch pieces. In a sauté pan, cook a chopped raw onion and some celery in a little oil until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped meat and vegetables and a little broth; cook until just heated through. At the end, you can add a little horseradish and cream, if you like it that way (I do).

One thought on “New England Boiled Dinner

  1. John Thorne, in his mis-titled masterwork “Serious Pig” (the Fix Your Hash chapter, because boiled dinner is “just a gateway to good hash”) has quite a bit to say about NE Boiled dinner. I encourage you to read his mini-manifesto on the subject and reflect in a subsequent post.


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