The Truth About Corned Beef & Cabbage

Tomorrow is not only Saint Patrick’s Day, it’s also Irish Days in Murphys California. So, we at the V thought a little history on Corned Beef and Cabbage was in order.


Most of us love St. Paddies day. Some of us love Paddies because of their Irish decent. Some of us love Paddies because, together with friends and family, we can celebrate the culture regardless of our heritage. Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s day, even if all that means is dressing in green and drinking Irish beer; or whatever we like, so long as its conducive to our festive spirit. But a mainstay of our American celebrations has always been the signature dish: Corned Beef and Cabbage! Is there anything more Irish than this? Turns out, our beloved Gaelic dish is anything but.


Celts of old rarely ate beef, if ever. Though they were prestigious ranchers, they raised their cattle primarily for dairy. Milk (sometimes fermented), curds, all manner of cheeses and even ‘bog butter’, where butter was allowed to mature buried in bogs, were staples of the Irish diet. Along with dairy, most meals contained plenty of grains such as barley, wheat and oats. Not to mention, a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and berries:


Leeks Watercress Sorrel  Celery Sloes Apples
Peas Nettles Lentils  ●Broad Beans Mulberries Plums
Garlic Onions Parsley  Cabbage Blackberries Hazelnuts
 Chives  Bilberries


Should meat be on the menu it would likely be pork, fish or venison. And the potato? It wasn’t till the English occupation of Ireland that the potato carved a niche for itself in the farms and tables of the Irish people. The reason for the potato’s sudden popularity: Corned Beef.


Corned Beef, so named for being preserved with salt as big as ‘corn’, or ‘small-seeds’, would become Ireland’s main export thru the 18th and 19th centuries. Cattle-land thru the country would continue to expand to meet the ever growing demand for corned beef by Europe’s armies, colonies and slaves over seas. The Irish people, finding themselves pushed off the prime growing land they no longer owned for cattle they couldn’t afford, turned to the potato as an easy-to-grow staple in what they had left of their island.


During the mass exodus from Ireland to America leading up to the Great Potato Famine, many Irish immigrants found themselves neighbors to the burgeoning Jewish populations of New York. With the growing opportunities in a new land they were able to finally afford beef. Beef bought from the local kosher butcher as brisket, much tastier than the salted preserves exported from the homeland in that it was usually brined.


In a way, eating corned beef for St. Paddies is a fitting meal for celebrating Irish-American history. A dish that at one time devastated an entire people, pushing them into poverty and driving them from the fertile fields of their own homes to scrape together a living between potato’s and English oppression. A dish that could, in some way, come to represent the promise of future prosperity across the Atlantic when it could finally be afforded midst the cultural melting pot of immigrant neighborhoods. Either way, it’s just tasty.


If you are trying to find a more traditional Irish cuisine to cook at home this year, you might try shepherds pie, coddle, colcannon, or, rather than corned beef and cabbage, why not try a combo still popular in Ireland today? Bacon and Cabbage with Parsley Sauce. Check below for the recipe. 


And to satisfy your yearly craving for all of those American-Irish traditional delights, come on down to V Restaurant & Bar for some Stuffed Irish Potatoes, Baileys Ice Cream & Stout Floats, and of course, Corned Beef & Cabbage.


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from all of us at V.



Traditional Irish Bacon, Cabbage, and Parsley Sauce Recipe


  • About 5 pounds loin, collar thick-cut bacon
  • 1 Savoy cabbage
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parsley Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • A few parsley stems
  • Sprig of thyme
  • A few slices of carrot (optional)
  • A few slices of onion (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons Roux (recipe follows)
  • About 4 tablespoons freshly chopped curly parsley
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • Scant cup all purpose flour


  1. Cover the bacon in cold water in a large pot and bring slowly to a boil.

  2. If the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in which case it is preferable to discard the water and start again.
  3. It may be necessary to change the water several times, depending on how salty the bacon is. Finally, cover with hot water and the lid of the pot and simmer until almost cooked, allowing 20 minutes for every 1lb.
  4. Meanwhile, trim the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it into quarters, removing the core. Discard the core and outer leaves. Slice the cabbage across the grain into thin shreds. If necessary, wash it quickly in cold water. About 20 minutes before the end of cooking the bacon, add the shredded cabbage to the water in which the bacon is boiling.
  5. Stir, cover, and continue to boil gently until both the cabbage and bacon are cooked, about 1 3⁄4 hours.

    Parsley Sauce

  6. Add the cold milk to a saucepan and add the herbs and vegetables (if using). Bring the mixture to simmering point, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain the milk, bring it back to a boil, and whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season again with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and simmer over very low heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.


  7. Melt the butter in a pan and cook the flour flour 2 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. It will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.



Happy Cooking!


Blog written by Bo Howard


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