Lunch Meat of the Week – Corned Beef

October 11, 2018 at 5:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Corned beef

Corned beef is a salt-cured beef product. The term comes from the treatment of the meat with large grained rock salt, also called “corns” of salt. It is featured as an ingredient in many cuisines.

Most recipes include nitrates or nitrites, which convert the natural myoglobin in beef to nitrosomyoglobin, giving a pink color. Nitrates and nitrites reduce the risk of dangerous botulism during curing by inhibiting the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores, but have been shown to be linked to increased cancer risk. Beef cured with salt only has a gray color and is sometimes called “New England corned beef.” Sometimes, sugar and spices are also added to corned beef recipes.

It was popular during World War I and World War II, when fresh meat was rationed. It also remains especially popular in Canada in a variety of dishes.

A corned beef on rye bread sandwich

Although the exact beginnings of corned beef are unknown, it most likely came about when people began preserving meat through salt-curing. Evidence of its legacy is apparent in numerous cultures, including ancient Europe and the Middle East. The word corn derives from Old English and is used to describe any small, hard particles or grains. In the case of corned beef, the word may refer to the coarse, granular salts used to cure the beef. The word “corned” may also refer to the corns of potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, which were formerly used to preserve the meat.

Corned beef on a bagel with mustard

In North America, corned beef dishes are associated with traditional Irish cuisine. However, considerable debate remains about the association of corned beef with Ireland. Mark Kurlansky, in his book Salt, states that the Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages that was the “forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef” and in the 17th century, the English named the Irish salted beef “corned beef”.

Some say until the wave of 18th-century Irish immigration to the United States, many of the ethnic Irish had not begun to consume corned beef dishes as seen today. The popularity of corned beef compared to bacon among the immigrant Irish may have been due to corned beef being considered a luxury product in their native land, while it was cheaply and readily available in America.

The Jewish population produced similar salt-cured meat from beef brisket, which Irish immigrants purchased as corned beef from Jewish butchers. This may have been facilitated by the close cultural interactions and collaboration of these two diverse cultures in the United States’ main 19th- and 20th-century immigrant port of entry, New York City.

Corned beef hash out of the can

Canned corned beef has long been one of the standard meals included in military field ration packs around the world, due to its simplicity and instant preparation in such rations. One example is the American Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) pack. Astronaut John Young sneaked a contraband corned beef sandwich on board Gemini 3, hiding it in a pocket of his spacesuit.

 

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