New England boiled dinner
New England boiled dinner is the basis of a traditional New England meal, consisting of corned beef or a smoked "picnic ham" shoulder, with cabbage and added vegetable items, often including potato, rutabaga, parsnip, carrot, white turnip, and onion. When using a beef roast, this meal is often known simply as corned beef and cabbage even with the addition of other vegetables. A similar Newfoundland dish is called a Jiggs dinner, named for the character in Bringing Up Father. When prepared with a ham shoulder, this meal is often referred to as smoked shoulder.
New England boiled dinner is a traditional meal on St. Patrick's Day. Ireland produced a significant amount of the corned beef in the Atlantic trade 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 Cork producing half of Ireland's annual beef exports in 1668. Most of the people of Ireland during this period consumed little of the meat produced, in either fresh or salted form, due to its prohibitive cost. In the colonies the product was looked upon with disdain due to its association with poverty and slavery.
Corned beef was used as a substitute for bacon by Irish-American immigrants in the late 19th century. Corned beef and cabbage is the Irish-American variant of the original Irish dish of bacon and cabbage.
A "picnic ham" shoulder consists of the cured and smoked primal pork shoulder, which is cut from the lower portion of a hog's foreleg still containing the arm and shank bones. The meat is then boiled with root vegetables for several hours or until it is tender. The resulting meat does not taste similar to a traditional ham.
Corned beef is prepared before the actual cooking of the meal by seasoning a cut of beef with salt (large grains of salt were known as corns) and spices and the natural meat juices. This meat is then placed whole, like a rump or pot roast into a crock pot, which in olden times was a ceramic pot over a fire, filled with cabbage and carrots, and, when available, red potatoes. However, after Luther Burbank's alteration of potatoes, the potatoes were chopped when placed in the pot. Rutabaga or turnips are also common ingredients. This meal can be left in a crock pot all day but must be kept in the naturally humid environment of cooking meat. Corned beef and cabbage is often served as a whole meal.
Smoked shoulder is an exceptionally salty cut of meat. Two different methods of preparation are commonly used to decrease the amount of salt in the meat. In the first method, the meat is placed in a pot and soaked in a refrigerated cold water bath for one day prior to cooking. During the soak, the water is changed several times. The pot of meat and water is then boiled on the stovetop until the meat is tender. In the second method, the meat is placed in cold water and brought to a boil. The boiling water is then poured off, replaced with fresh cold water, and the ham is brought to a boil again. This process can be repeated several times, as deemed appropriate by the chef, before the meat is allowed to cook. A combination of both methods is also acceptable. This is a very easy meal to cook, as the salt and flavor of the meat require no additional seasonings. The ham generally must boil for several hours until it is ready to eat. The vegetables are placed in the pot and boiled with the meat; however, some chefs prefer to place them in the ham's water after the meat has been removed to avoid overcooking.
- New England Cookbook by Eleanor Early, Random House New York, Library of Congress Card Number 54-5958, p. 45
- Corned Beef and Cabbage (Jiggs dinner) – source materials on the dish's history
- Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe, courtesy of Alton Brown