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A Bit O’ Healthier Corned Beef

by Jane Worthington-Roth

Of Irish Ancestry - or not - many folks enjoy dining on Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Paddy’s Day. There’s not a drop of Irish blood in me, but I love to make a dinner to celebrate the feast day of Ireland’s Patron Saint.

There are several misconceptions about Corned Beef and Cabbage. In the U.S. it’s most often associated with St. Patrick’s Day (and rarely eaten on other days) but in Ireland it is not considered a national dish. It originated in the Irish-American culture and is as American as apple pie. Nonetheless, it’s delicious, and pairs well with a pint of Guinness beer (which, yes, IS actually Irish).

I have to admit, though, I have a couple of problems with the traditional recipes. First, the smell of boiling cabbage can be a bit overwhelming, and, second, why is corned beef always pink?

Corned beef is salt-cured beef that has been treated with large grains of rock salt, also called “corns” of salt. Most corned beef seasoning also includes nitrates or nitrites, resulting in a pink color. Beef that is only cured with salt has a gray color, sometimes called “New England Corned Beef.”

To solve this dilemma, I buy plain brisket and use my own spice mix with no added preservatives. Brisket comes in two different cuts: point and the leaner flat. Depending on which you get, your corned beef may be tender and sliceable (flat cut) or very tender and falling apart (point cut). The choice is yours.

As far as the cabbage goes, when it is boiled for long periods of time, it gives off a sulfur-like smell. Instead of cooking my cabbage along with the corned beef, I simply sauté it separately in a little olive oil and add it to the final dish. Voila! Both problems solved!

For my recipe, marinate the beef brisket the night before, cook the corned beef in a slow cooker, and sauté the cabbage just before serving. Note that a 4 to 5 pound brisket may look like a lot of meat, but the size will dramatically reduce by about half while cooking, so plan accordingly.


Brine & Spice Mixture
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar

8 whole allspice berries
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons whole yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks, cracked into small pieces
8 whole cloves

Corned Beef
4 to 5 pound beef brisket
6 carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 lg. Baby Red Bliss Potatoes, halved
1 medium sweet onion, cut into wedges
12 oz. bottle of beer (It’s traditional to use Guinness, but I like to use an IPA with a bit more bite like Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA)

½ head of green cabbage, coarsely chopped
Olive oil for sautéing

Whole grain mustard, for serving

In a large stockpot, combine the water, salt and brown sugar. Heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved, stirring constantly.

Add in the spice mixture, then set aside to cool.

When the brine-spice mixture has cooled down completely, place the brisket and brine into a 2-gallon Ziploc and put in the fridge to marinate overnight, turning periodically.

The next morning, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse with cool water. Discard the brine.

Put the carrots, onion and potatoes into a slow cooker. Place the brisket on top of the vegetables (fat side up).

Pour on the beer, then top with enough water to cover the brisket. Cook on low until the meat and vegetables are tender, about 8 hours.

When the brisket is just about done, sauté the cabbage in a little olive oil until soft and lightly browned. If you want, add in a little of the liquid from the slow cooker to round out the flavor.

Serve the brisket and vegetables, along with the cabbage, with a little whole grain mustard on the side.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day – Sláinte - “Cheers!”