Corned beef, green bread and more on St. Patrick's

March 04, 1998|By ROB KASPER

WHAT IS THIS?" the kids asked when a platter of corned beef was placed on our supper table.

I rolled my eyes with disbelief. My offspring had failed to recognize corned beef, a traditional Irish dish. I was thankful that their grandmother or relatives on the Irish side of our family were not able to hear this remark.

When I was a kid I was familiar with corned beef. It was the bright red meat that showed up on your plate with boiled potatoes and hunks of cabbage. Hours before you ate it, you smelled it cooking. It was one of the regulars, the meat and potato meals that appeared in our Midwestern home on Sundays and special occasions.

St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, was one of those special occasions. It was a day that my Irish uncles treated as a holiday, taking off from work. It was a day when a constant stream of visitors arrived at our house. Monsignors with bone-crushinng handshakes; musicians who played "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" on the front porch at midnight; and a stream of men and women with creamy skin and curly hair who would stare at you and announce, "This one looks like his grandfather."

It was a day that my father, a German, always went to work. It was also a day that my brothers and I had to go to school, even though we could claim to be Irish. It seemed so unfair that on St. Patrick's Day some adults got to play hooky from the burdens of employment, yet we had to submit to the rigors of elementary school life.

One bright note of spending St. Patrick's Day in school occurred at lunch when I ate a sandwich made with green bread. The green bread, a gift from someone from my grandmother's old neighborhood, showed up at our house bright and early every St. Patrick's Day. My mother would make me a sandwich with it. At lunchtime, much to the horror of my companions in the school cafeteria, I would chomp down on bright green fare.

In between the slices of bright green bread was usually a slice of bologna. Corned beef was for supper and mostly for adults. As a kid, I didn't like the texture of it. It was too mushy.

So the other night when a plate of corned beef showed up on our Baltimore supper table, I didn't expect my kids, 17 and 13 years old, to like it. But I was disappointed that they failed to recognize it. I broke into a sales pitch for corned beef and found myself stressing the dish's connection to Jewish fare.

"This is brisket," I told the kids, "the same cut of meat that is used to make pastrami." At the mention of pastrami, the 17-year-old brightened. He is a big fan of the pastrami sandwiches found at Jewish delicatessens such as Attman's in Baltimore and Second Avenue in New York. He took a few bites of the corned beef but wasn't convinced. He said pastrami had a different, more spicy flavor. He was right.

His brother, the 13-year-old, wouldn't eat corned beef because "it had too much fat." He got up from the table and cooked himself a burrito in the microwave.

At first, my kids' rejection of corned beef left me feeling downhearted. I was worried that a piece of my past was being tossed aside. But the next night, I felt much better. I opened the refrigerator and saw a hunk of the corned beef. I realized that if one generation rejects corned beef, it only means that another generation has enough leftover meat to make a thick sandwich.

Glazed Corned Beef

Serves 8 to 10

5-6 pounds beef brisket

3 onions, sliced

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

6 cloves, whole

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon German (Dusseldorf) mustard

1/3 cup light brown sugar

Place beef in deep, metal pot or Dutch oven. Barely cover beef with boiling water.

Add the onions, garlic, cloves and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot tightly with foil and also put on pot lid. Reduce heat, simmering gently but not allowing it to regain boil. Cook 50 minutes per pound of meat or until the meat is tender when pricked with a fork.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove meat from pot and drain. Place meat in shallow pan, fat side up. Trim excess fat with a sharp knife. Spread the mustard, then sugar on the top of meat. Bake until well glazed for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve hot or cold.

From "The New York Times Cook Book, Revised Edition" (1990, Harper & Row, $25)

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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