The website says the Irish were the number one exporters of the dish until 1825. The area of Cork, Ireland was one of the leading distributors. The salted meat could last much longer, and was even used in the Napoleonic wars by the British army.
It’s kind of interesting that a meal closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day in America, corned beef and cabbage, is rarely eaten in Ireland. Historically, pork was the favored meat, and cows were kept mainly for milk production. An Irishman’s wealth used to be based on the number of cattle in his herd, and killing a cow to eat it effectively diminished a person’s wealth, and status. In later years, beef was still much too expensive for most people, and corned beef was considered a delicacy to maybe be eaten at Easter.
Where Did Corned Beef Get Its Name?
You might be wondering where corned beef got its name. After all, it doesn’t contain any corn! Beef used to be cured by packing it with corn-sized rock salt, and the name just stuck.
While the Irish were the first exporters of corned beef, many Irishmen got their first real taste of it for themselves upon emigrating to America at the end of the 19th Century, where both beef and salt were much cheaper. They tended to cook this salt-cured (corned) beef much as they would pork back home: soaking it to remove some of the salt and then braising it with some cabbage.
If you are lucky enough to be in Ireland for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration, you will certainly find corned beef and cabbage, but most of it is prepared for North American tourists. Oddly enough, on this decidedly Irish holiday, the Irish themselves don’t really seem to have a traditional dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Since I live in the United States and intend to celebrate as an Irish-American, I will be serving corned beef and cabbage on Tuesday. At its heart, it is a very simple dish and is often simply spiced. To make it a true celebratory meal, I’ve added some complexity by beer braising and enriched the dish by finishing it with some melted butter.