October 8, 2013
Pasta is a staple in most of our kitchens. According to a Zagat survey; about half of the American population eats pasta 1-2 times a week and almost a quarter eats it about 3-4 times a week. Needless to say, we love pasta. Seriously, who wouldn’t want a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
The popularity of pasta in America dates back to Thomas Jefferson, who had a pasta machine sent to Philadelphia in the late 18th century after he fell in love with the fashionable food while dining in Paris. He was so enamored by pasta that he even designed his own pasta machine while on a trip to Italy. The pasta dish he made infamous in the United States is something we like to call macaroni and cheese. But, America’s true love affair with pasta didn’t heat up until the 20th century, with a boom in immigrants hailing from Italy. When the first Italians arrived, one of the only pasta varieties available in the United States was spaghetti; that’s why it is so iconic to Italian American cuisine. Now, of course, it is hard to find a grocery store today that doesn’t have at least half an aisle dedicated to different pasta varieties. For a clear view on the number of varieties, check out Pop Chart Lab’s chart of 250 shapes of pasta, The Plethora of Pasta Permutations.
Over the past few decades, pasta has been given a bad reputation by many low carb fad diets such as the original Atkins diet. On the flip side, the touted Mediterranean Diet includes pasta as a staple. Part of the confusion over the merits of eating bread draw from the conflation of durum wheat, which pasta is traditionally made from, and wheat used for baking bread. Durum pasta has a low glycemic index(GI) of about 25-45. To compare, white bread has a high GI of about 75 and potatoes have a GI of about 80, as do many breakfast cereals. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating foods with a low GI has been associated with higher HDL-cholesterol concentrations (the “good” cholesterol), a decreased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And, case-control studies have also shown positive associations between dietary glycemic index and the risk of colon and breast cancers. Pasta made with even healthier grains, such as whole grain and spelt, do add additional nutrients but do not necessarily lower the GI.
The way pasta is cooked also affects its healthiness. For the healthiest and tastiest way, you want to cook the pasta al dente, which means “to the tooth” or “to the bite.” If overcooked, the GI index will rise, meaning pasta that is cooked al dente is digested and absorbed slower than overcooked mushy pasta. So to make your pasta healthy and delicious, follow the tips below.
Use a large pot: Size matters. The pasta should be swimming in a sea of water because it will expand while cooking. If there is not enough water than the pasta will get mushy and sticky. The average pasta pot size is between 6 and 8 quarts, and it should be filled about 3/4 of the way or about 4-5 quarts with water for 1 pound of pasta.
Fill the pot with cold water: This goes for cooking anything with water. Hot water dissolves pollutants more quickly than cold, and some pipes contain lead that can leak into the water. Just to be safe, always use cold water from the tap and run the water for a little before using.
Heavily salt the water: Adding salt to the water is strictly for flavor. You want to salt the water as it is coming to a boil. While the pasta is cooking, it absorbs the salt adding just that extra touch to the overall meal. Do as Mario Batali does and salt the water until it “tastes like the sea.” To get that saltiness, Mark Ladner, executive chef at Del Posto, advises to use about 1 tbsp. of salt per quart of water.
There is an old wives tale that says salt will also make the pasta water boil faster. This is not completely the case. Adding salt to water elevates the boiling point and to increase the boiling point of 1 quart of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit you would need 3 tablespoons of salt. And, that is way too much salt for anyone’s taste buds.
Olive oil is said to prevent the pot from boiling over and prevent the pasta from sticking together. But, the general consensus is that it does more harm than good. It can prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Since oil is less dense than water and is composed of hydrophobic molecules, it creates a layer across the top of the water. When the pasta is drained, it is poured through this oiled layer and leaves a fresh coat of oil on the pasta.
However, if you are not using a sauce or are using an olive oil base, then the oil has little effect.
Make sure the water is boiled: For all the impatient cooks out there, just wait that extra minute until the water is boiling with big bubbles. The boiling temperature is what prevents the pasta from getting mushy. That first plunge into the boiling water is critical to the texture of the final product. It will also help you time the pasta better.
Stir: Do not forget to stir. It may sound obvious, but this simple step can easily be forgotten through everyday distractions and the rush of cooking dinner. Without stirring, the pasta will for sure stick together and cook unevenly.
Take the lid off: Once you add the pasta, wait for the water to come back to a rolling boil and then remove the lid. This is just so you don’t have that white foam exploding over the edges of your pot like Mt. Vesuvius. An alternative tip from Lidia Bastianich is to leave the lid on but keep it propped open with a wooden spoon.
Cook, Time & Test: Yes, you can follow the timing on the box or package of pasta. But, the best timer is your mouth. Chef and cookbook author Jacob Kenedy says in his book The Geometry of Pasta to “start tasting the pasta at 15-20 second intervals, from a minute or two before you think the pasta might be ready.”
If serving the pasta with a sauce, Chef Michael Chiarello recommends taking the pasta out at about 4 minutes before the package time. Then add it to the sauce and let it finish cooking for a minute or two until it is al dente. This method should be used with only a proportionate amount of sauce. You do not want to have a huge pot of sauce for a pound or less of pasta. It is a great idea to make extra sauce, especially to put some in the freezer for another day or to serve on the side.
For a completely different take on cooking pasta, follow this rule from Mary Ann Esposito:
“My rule for cooking dry store bought pasta is to bring the water to a rapid boil; stir in the pasta and bring the water back to a boil. Put on the lid and turn the heat off. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Works beautifully for cuts like spaghetti, ziti, rigatoni and other short cuts of pasta.”
Don’t drain all of the pasta water: Pasta water is a great addition to the sauce. Add about a ¼-1/2 cup or ladle full of water to your sauce before adding the pasta. The salty, starchy water not only adds flavor but helps glue the pasta and sauce together; it will also help thicken the sauce.
The way you drain the pasta can also affect the flavor and texture. If cooking long pasta such as linguini or spaghetti, try using tongs or a pasta fork to transfer the pasta from the water to the sauce. You want to marry the sauce and the pasta as quickly as possibly. With short pasta, it is ideal to have a pasta pot that has a built in strainer or use a colander in the sink. Just make sure you don’t let the pasta sit too long or it will stick together.
Don’t rinse cooked pasta: Adding oil to pasta is not the only culprit to preventing the sauce and pasta from harmoniously mixing. Rinsing the cooked pasta under water does just the same. According to Giada de Laurentiis in her cookbook Everyday Pasta, “the starch on the surface contributes flavor and helps the sauce adhere.” If you rinse the water, you rinse away the starch.
Do you have any secrets to cooking the perfect pasta?
July 10, 2013
It’s the season to fire up that grill. But, forget about burgers, hotdogs, and chicken wings and try grilling some pizza. It may not be the first choice for a festive barbeque, but once you try a slice of this smoky, crispy heaven, you will have a whole new appreciation for that grated open flame. Most home kitchen ovens cannot reach the high temperatures needed to give pizza crust that infamous crunch, so grilling is a great way to get that traditional Neapolitan flavor in the home.
There are two basic ways to grill pizza: directly on the grate or a pizza stone. Both have their advantages: charring the dough on the grate gets you an extra smoky flavor, but a pizza stone, the closest thing to the bottom of a brick oven, stabilizes the heat to cook the pizza throughout, making the crust extra crispy.
The first step in making any pizza is the dough. Pizza dough is pretty simple to make, but you can make the whole process easier by buying already made fresh pizza dough at a local grocery or specialty food stores (another option is to ask your local pizzeria for a slab of dough.) Whether you make it yourself or buy it from an outside source, make sure you allow the dough to rise. In general, the dough should be placed in a bowl covered with a damp cloth in a warm room for about an hour before using. Keeping it in the kitchen is fine; just don’t put it in the refrigerator or underneath a cooling system. For the dough to rise properly, it needs to be kept at a warmer temperature, which will allow the dough to stretch and make that bubbly crust.
Once the dough has risen, prepare it for the grill just as you would for the oven. Roll it out and flip it (without dropping, of course), but, make sure you don’t drop it. Also, be careful not to roll or stretch the dough out too thin, especially if you are grilling directly on the grate.
For a tomato base sauce, instead of buying a can of pre-made pizza sauce, get a can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter, longer, less seedy and less acidic than their parent plum tomatoes. To make the tomatoes easier to spread on the dough, put the can of tomatoes either in a large bowl to blend (for just a few seconds) with a hand blender or in a food processor so the tomatoes are still chunky and get that extra sweetness in each bite. Just add a little, salt, pepper, garlic salt and mix with a spoon, and you are done.
For a gas grill, turn the heat to high, close the lid and wait until the temperature reaches about 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit. For charcoal, you want to make sure you close the lid and open the dampers to let the grill heat and circulate. If using a pizza stone, you want to put the stone in right away and begin heating it with the grill.
If cooking directly on the rims:
Brush olive oil on one side of the dough with a basting or pastry brush. Put the oiled side face down on the grill, and let it cook for a couple minutes. But, keep an eye on it because the dough can overcook and burn if it is too thin. If it looks like the dough is cooked, then go with your gut over a timer. Once the one side is done, either flip and quickly top your pizza directly on the grill or to be safer, take the dough off the grill completely. Oil the uncooked side and then put the sauce and toppings on the cooked side. Return it to the grill, uncooked side facing down. Cover the grill and cook until cheese is melted and crust is crispy and golden brown.
If using a Pizza Stone:
Pizza stones need time to heat up before using, so low power and charcoal grills may not be the best for this option. They can also be expensive, but discount homeware or cooking stores, can carry them at a fraction of the cost (I got mine at HomeGoods for $9.99). There are some creative ideas out there for creating your own stone by using quarry tiles that can be found at most hardware stores. When using a more creative route, be careful that there isn’t lead or any harmful materials or chemicals in the product.
Make sure your dough is well floured and prepare it with your sauce and toppings of choice. Instead of brushing olive oil on the dough, after the pizza is all topped, drizzle some olive oil on top. For easy transport, prepare the pizza on a pizza peel or something that it could easily slide off of. A flat cookie sheet could do,(or the back of a rimmed sheet) just be careful and quick, because the high heat of the grill will heat up that cookie sheet fast. Whatever you do, do not touch the stone with your hands. Have a pair of tongs handy if you do not have a peel. Once the pizza has slid onto the stone, cover and cook for about 10 minutes with a watchful eye.
No matter what method you use, once the pizza is done, slide it onto the peel or whichever plate, platter or tray you are using, cut, and enjoy!
If you have any ideas or techniques on grilling pizza, please share! One idea is putting the cheese first before spreading the sauce like a good old Trenton tomato pie. This will prevent the sauce from soaking into the crust and create a barrier to allow the crust to get extra crispy. This is a great option if you want that extra crunch, especially if you aren’t using a stone.
June 6, 2013
Meatballs—juicy goodness of meat, onions, breadcrumbs, egg, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, soaked in red sauce over a pile of spaghetti. Nothing says comfort like a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. And, nothing says Italian food like a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs—unless you are Italian.
If you go to Italy, you will not find a dish called spaghetti and meatballs. And if you do, it is probably to satisfy the palate of the American tourist. So if not Italy, where does this dish come from? Meatballs in general have multiple creation stories all across the world from köttbullars in Sweden to the various köftes in Turkey. Yes, Italy has its version of meatballs called polpettes, but they differ from their American counterpart in multiple ways. They are primarily eaten as a meal itself (plain) or in soups and made with any meat from turkey to fish. Often, they are no bigger in size than golf balls; in the region of Abruzzo, they can be no bigger in size than marbles and called polpettines.
Polpettes are more commonly found at the family table than on a restaurant menu and hold a dear place in the heart of Italian home cooking. Pellegrino Artusi was a Florentine silk merchant, who in retirement followed his passion for food, traveling and recording recipes. In 1891, he earned the unofficial title of ‘the father of Italian cuisine‘ when he published the first modern Italian cookbook titled La scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene: Manuale practico per le famiglie (The science of cooking and the art of eating well: a practical manual for families.) Artusi was the first to bring together the variety of Italy’s regional cuisines into one book and also importantly, the first to write for the home chef. Of polpettes he writes, “Non crediate che io abbia la pretensione d’insegnarvi a far le polpette. Questo è un piatto che tutti lo sanno fare cominciando dal ciuco,” which translates, “Don’t think I’m pretentious enough to teach you how to make meatballs. This is a dish that everybody can make, starting with the donkey.” Needless to say, meatballs were seen as an incredibly easy dish to make, but a popular one nonetheless.
But those large meatballs, doused in marinara over spaghetti are 100 percent American. So how did spaghetti and meatballs evolve from polpettes? The answer is similar to every ethnic cuisine that traveled to this country; immigrants had to make do with the ingredients they could find and afford.
About 4 million Italians immigrated to America from 1880 to 1920. The majority (about 85 percent) came from southern Italy, where political and economic circumstances left the region extremely impoverished, so it would be the cuisines of Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Abruzzi and Molise (and not Venice) that would make their mark in the United States.
These poor immigrants went from spending 75 percent of their income on food in Italy to only 25 percent of their income on food in America. With more money came more food. Just like with the Irish and corned beef, meat became a meal staple instead of a rare (if at all) luxury. The whole dynamic of food changed completely. As a result, the dynamic of the family especially the role of women changed greatly. Women went from scraping to put food on the table to striving to be the best cook in the neighborhood. It was no longer about necessity but now what Nonna cooks what best.
Though these immigrants were eating more meat than they had ever before, they were not buying filet mignon. The comforting meatballs were the perfect solution to the quality of beef available. With the boost in income, not only was more meat consumed but in much larger quantities. The immigrants indulged and meatballs transformed from golf balls to baseballs and were made with significantly more meat and less bread. Whether you can taste it are not, meatballs are traditionally made with breadcrumbs, often crumpled stale bread soaked in milk, making the meatballs moist and soft. In traditional polpettes, the bread to meat ratio is equivalent, but the stateside version of the Italian meatball is a much denser sphere.
With the meatball must come the sauce and the spaghetti. When you look at an Italian-American restaurant menu, a large portion of the dishes will most likely be in a red sauce; manicotti, stuffed shells, baked ziti, chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan etc…. This marinara sauce originates from Naples and comes from the Italian word, marinaro, meaning sailor. John Mariani explains how the sauce was named in How Italian Food Conquered the World, “There was a simple one of garlic, oil, and tomatoes called marinara, supposedly because it was made quickly, as soon as the mariners’ wives spotted their husbands returning fishing boats in the distance.”
For home cooks in the United States, this “sailor sauce” dominated Italian-American cuisine because canned tomatoes (and spaghetti) were among the only items available in groceries.
Which leads to the final part of the holy trinity, spaghetti. Though many credit Marco Polo for introducing Italy to pasta, Italians were eating it long before. The most accepted theory is the Arab invasion of Siciliy in the 8th century. But since its beginning in Italy, pasta has been considered as more of an appetizer and not a main course or side dish. It was actually American influence that invented a new role for pasta in the dinner meal. There are two theories to how pasta vaulted to its spot as a secondo piatto. The first is that Anglo-American diners were accustomed to having a starch accompaniment to their proteins, namely potatoes. To satisfy the requests of their clientele, these early Italian restaurants married the main course meat dishes with pasta. The second theory is that spaghetti, being one of the only Italian ingredients available in the U.S., became more popular in the home to new immigrants who were adjusting to their new wealth of food.
To close, it’s instructive to look at the writings from 1950 of Sicilian restauranteur Niccoló de Quattrociocchi, as quoted in Mariani’s book:
Niccoló de Quattrociocchi reported in his memoirs that he’d dined at an Italian restaurant “where I was introduced to two very fine, traditional American specialties called ‘spaghetti with meatballs,’ and ‘cotoletta parmigiana,’” which he thought were “just for fun called Italian,” but added “as a matter of fact, I found them both extremely satisfying and I think someone in Italy should invent them for Italians over there.”
So there you go, spaghetti and meatballs may not be Italian, but it is a symbol of Italian-American cuisine and as The Lady and the Tramp may tell you, as American as Walt Disney himself:
May 3, 2013
Cinco de Mayo, as celebrated in the United States, shares some similarities to St. Patrick’s Day: a mainstream marketing fiasco that’s evolved out of an authentic celebration of cultural heritage. The typical Cinco de Mayo is a day of eating tacos and drinking margaritas. But, just like you won’t find corned beef and green beer in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t find ground beef tacos, nachos and frozen margaritas in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day; it celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Civil War. In our neighbor to the south, the holiday is mainly celebrated in the region of Puebla, and mostly in the state’s capital city of the same name.
But what America’s Cinco de Mayo misses is the traditional food of Mexico, named to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a recognition given to only one other cuisine (French). And, nachos with refried beans, cheese wiz and jalapenos is nowhere on the list or in the country. Taco Bell has even tried opening up in Mexico but each time has failed, simply because no one will eat there.
What makes traditional Mexican fare worthy of such a distinction? You won’t find cumin soaked ground beef hard shell tacos topped with iceberg and cheddar. But, you will find lamb barbacoa that has been smoked underground in banana leaves or carnitas topped with queso fresco, pickled onions and homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortilla that has been ever so lightly heated on a comal. And Puebla, just so happens to be considered by many, including Rick Bayless and Mark Bittman, as the gastronomic capital of Mexico.
Before Spanish explorers and immigrants swarmed Mexico, Puebla was already a culinary capital. The sacred town of Cholula known for its great pre-Colombian pyramid was also home to pre-Columbian street food. In this ancient city, vendors would set up outside the pyramid to feed those who came to worship.
After arriving in Puebla, the Spanish settled close to Cholula and created what is known today as the city of Puebla. Religion was a major aspect of Spanish conquest and convents and monasteries were set up across the city. Spanish nuns invented many of Puebla and Mexico’s most cherished dishes in these convents by integrating old world traditions with new world ingredients.
With that history in mind, here are three famous dishes from Puebla to try this Cinco de Mayo.
1) Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano may be the most consumed dish in Puebla for Cinco de Mayo. But, what is mole (accent on the second syllable, as in guacamole)? There are two origin stories to the word mole. The first is that mole is the Spanish translation of the Aztec or Nahuatl word for sauce, mulli. The second is that mole comes from the Spanish word moler, which means to grind. Whichever story you want to believe, mole is a sauce made from ground up ingredients and comes in all colors and consistencies, but the thick dark mole poblano has made its mark on the international gastronomic world.
Legend has it that mole poblano was first created in the kitchen of the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla by Sor Andrea de la Asunción in the late seventeenth century. According to The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist, Sor Andrea de la Asunción is said to have prepared it for don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda y Aragón, the new viceroy of Spain. This dish is the ultimate combination of old and new world ingredients and cooking practices. This sauce can be somewhat daunting by the long laundry list of ingredients that requires various preparations. But, after one taste of this mole, all the roasting and toasting will be worth it.
Chalupas, an iconic Poblano street food, have a resemblance to tostadas and are the perfect antojito for any Cinco de Mayo celebration. To put it simply, chalupas are fried thick tortillas topped with salsa, shredded meat, chopped onion and sometimes queso fresco.
There are two versions to the history of chalupas. The first is that it gets its name from baskets. According to All About Puebla,
Chalupas date back to Colonial times, when Spanish settlers spent a good part of their days washing clothes by the Almoloya (San Francisco) River. It’s said that the women carried everything to the river in big baskets made of wood called chalupas, after which they’d rush home and quickly fry up corn tortillas in lard, top them with salsa, shredded beef or pork, and chopped onion – and call it dinner.
The second is that they are named after the Aztec boats (chalupas) used in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan.
3) Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en nogada is an iconic dish of Mexico. It is said to have been invented in the convent of Santa Monica for Agustin de Iturbide‘s visit to Puebla in 1821. Agustín de Iturbide was Mexico’s first emperor after Mexico won independence from Spain. He was served chiles en nogada in Puebla while traveling back to Mexico City from Veracruz after signing the Treaty of Cordoba, which gave Mexico its independence.
The dish signifies Mexico’s independence and is made up of the colors of the Mexican flag; red, white and green. The flavors are just as colorful as the ingredients. The sweet, savory, picadillo stuffed poblano pepper dipped in egg batter, fried, and topped with a rich walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds and parsley is something you will not regret. Though it is more traditionally made for Mexico’s Independence Day, it is one of Puebla’s most cherished dishes.
March 15, 2013
It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without glittered shamrocks, green beer, leprechauns, and of course, corned beef and cabbage. Yet, if you went to Ireland on St. Paddy’s Day, you would not find any of these things except maybe the glittered shamrocks. To begin with, leprechauns are not jolly, friendly cereal box characters, but mischievous nasty little fellows. And, just as much as the Irish would not pollute their beer with green dye, they would not eat corned beef, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. So why around the world, especially in the US, is corned beef and cabbage synonymous with St. Paddy’s Day?
The unpopularity of corned beef in Ireland comes from its relationship with beef in general. From early on, cattle in Ireland were not used for their meat but for their strength in the fields, for their milk and for the dairy products produced. In Gaelic Ireland, cows were a symbol of wealth and a sacred animal. Because of their sacred association, they were only killed for their meat if the cows were too old to work or produce milk. So, beef was not even a part of the diet for the majority of the population. Only the wealthy few were able to eat the meat on a celebration or festival. During these early times, the beef was “salted” to be preserved. The first salted beef in Ireland was actually not made with salt but with sea ash, the product of burning seaweed. The 12th century poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne shows that salted beef was eaten by the kings. This poem is one of the greatest parodies in the Irish language and pokes fun at the diet of King Cathal mac Finguine, an early Irish King who has a demon of gluttony stuck in his throat.
Wheatlet, son of Milklet,
Son of juicy Bacon,
Is mine own name.
Is the man’s
That bears my bag.
Haunch of Mutton
Is my dog’s name,
Of lovely leaps.
Lard my wife,
Across the kale-top
Cheese-curds, my daughter,
Goes around the spit,
Fair is her fame.
Corned Beef, my son,
Whose mantle shines
Over a big tail.
As the poem mentions, juicy bacon or pork was also eaten. Pigs were the most prevalent animal bred only to be eaten; fom ancient times to today, it earned the reputation as the most eaten meat in Ireland.
The Irish diet and way of life stayed pretty much the same for centuries until England conquered most of the country. The British were the ones who changed the sacred cow into a commodity, fueled beef production, and introduced the potato. The British had been a beef eating culture since the invasion of the Roman armies. England had to outsource to Ireland, Scotland and eventually North America to satisfy the growing palate of their people. As Jeremy Rifkin writes in his book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, “so beef-driven was England that it became the first nation in the world to identify with a beef symbol. From the outset of the colonial era, the “roast beef” became synonymous with the well-fed British aristocracy and middle class.”
Herds of cattle were exported by the tens of thousands each year from Ireland to England. But, the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667 were what fueled the Irish corned beef industry. These acts prohibited the export of live cattle to England, which drastically flooded the Irish market and lowered the cost of meat available for salted beef production. The British invented the term “corned beef” in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, the size of corn kernels. After the Cattle Acts, salt was the main reason Ireland became the hub for corned beef. Ireland’s salt tax was almost 1/10 that of England’s and could import the highest quality at an inexpensive price. With the large quantities of cattle and high quality of salt, Irish corned beef was the best on the market. It didn’t take long for Ireland to be supplying Europe and the Americas with its wares. But, this corned beef was much different than what we call corned beef today. With the meat being cured with salt the size of corn kernels, the taste was much more salt than beef.
Irish corned beef had a stranglehold on the transtlantic trade routes, supplying the French and British navies and the American and French colonies. It was at such a demand that even at war with France, England allowed French ships to stop in Ireland to purchase the corned beef. From a report published by the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Culinary Arts and Food Technology:
Anglo-Irish landlords saw exports to France, despite the fact that England and France were at war, as a means of profiting from the Cattle Acts…During the 18th century, wars played a significant role in the growth of exports of Irish beef. These wars were mainly fought at sea and navies had a high demand for Irish salted beef for two reasons, firstly its longevity at sea and secondly its competitive price.
Ironically, the ones producing the corned beef, the Irish people, could not afford beef or corned beef for themselves. When England conquered Ireland, oppressive laws against the native Irish Catholic population began. Their land was confiscated and feudal like plantations were set up. If the Irish could afford any meat at all, salted pork or bacon was consumed. But, what the Irish really relied on was the potato.
By the end of the 18th century, the demand for Irish corned beef began to decline as the North American colonies began producing their own. Over the next 5o years, the glory days of Irish corned beef were over. By 1845, a potato blight broke out in Ireland completely destroying the food source for most of the Irish population, and The Great Famine began. Without help from the British government, the Irish people were forced to work to death, starve or immigrate. About a million people died and another million immigrated on “coffin ships” to the US. To this day, the Irish population is still less than it was before The Great Famine.
In America, the Irish were once again faced with the challenges of prejudice. To make it easier, they settled together in mainly urban areas with the largest numbers in New York City. However, they were making more money then they had in Ireland under British rule. Which brings us back to corned beef. With more money for food, the Irish could afford meat for the first time. But instead of their beloved bacon, the Irish began eating beef. And, the beef they could afford just happened to be corned beef, the thing their great grandparents were famous for.
Yet, the corned beef the Irish immigrants ate was much different than that produced in Ireland 200 years prior. The Irish immigrants almost solely bought their meat from kosher butchers. And what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. The Jewish population in New York City at the time were relatively new immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. The corned beef they made was from brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow. Since brisket is a tougher cut, the salting and cooking processes transformed the meat into the extremely tender, flavorful corned beef we know of today.
The Irish may have been drawn to settling near Jewish neighborhoods and shopping at Jewish butchers because their cultures had many parallels. Both groups were scattered across the globe to escape oppression, had a sacred lost homeland, discriminated against in the US, and had a love for the arts. There was an understanding between the two groups, which was a comfort to the newly arriving immigrants. This relationship can be seen in Irish, Irish-American and Jewish-American folklore. It is not a coincidence that James Joyce made the main character of his masterpiece Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, a man born to Jewish and Irish parents. And, as the two Tin Pan Alley songwriters, William Jerome and Jean Schwartz write in their 1912 song, If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews,
On St. Patrick’s Day, Rosinsky pins a shamrock on his coat
There’s a sympathetic feeling between the Blooms and MacAdoos.
The Irish Americans transformed St.Patrick’s Day from a religious feast day to a celebration of their heritage and homeland. With the celebration, came a celebratory meal. In honor of their culture, the immigrants splurged on their neighbor’s flavorful corned beef, which was accompanied by their beloved potato and the most affordable vegetable, cabbage. It didn’t take long for corned beef and cabbage to become associated with St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it was on Lincoln’s mind when he chose the menu for his first Inaugural Luncheon March 4, 1861, which was corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.
The popularity of corned beef and cabbage never crossed the Atlantic to the homeland. Instead of corned beef and cabbage, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal eaten in Ireland is lamb or bacon. In fact, many of what we consider St. Patrick’s Day celebrations didn’t make it there until recently. St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals began in the US. And, until 1970, pubs were closed by law in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. It was originally a day about religion and family. Today in Ireland, thanks to Irish tourism and Guinness, you will find many of the Irish American traditions.
Lastly, if you are looking for a connection to the home country this holiday, there are many other ways to be authentic. Start by calling it St. Patrick’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day. Patty is a girl’s name in Ireland and Paddy is the proper nickname for Patrick. You don’t want to be the Patty in the pub.