Ah, St. Patty’s Day. Green beer and corned beef and overcooked cabbage. Really gets the stomach rumbling, right?
Actually, boiled suppers are as much of our American culinary history as our collectivized Irish roots. The traditional boiled dinner, essentially a big pot of beef or pork with root vegetables covered in water and slowly cooked until tender and hot, has been a mainstay on the shores of New England since the English first set up their seaside villages. The idea of the dish is simple: a nutritious and economical way to use last season’s meat with this season’s vegetables. Refrigeration did not exist four hundred years ago; meat was preserved with salt– the “corn” in corned beef refers to the large kernels of salt used in the brining process. Boiled in water with water with root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, and the first cabbage of the spring, corned beef was an easy to integrate protein into the diet all through the slaughterless winter.
Corned beef and cabbage was not a dish developed in natural conjunction with wine drinking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pair a good wine with a hearty plate of meat and vegetables. Ale (and now, a pint of Guinness), is a common and delicious accompaniment to corned beef and cabbage, but this St. Patty’s Day, try a glass of wine with your dinner – you might be surprised at how wine’s subtle complexities are a pleasant compliment to the dish’s simpler tastes.
Corned beef and cabbage is often served with mustard, horseradish, and vinegar, condiments that lend a sharpness to the tame food. These tastes clash with many wines, their acidity overpowering the wine. However, an off-dry, relatively acidic white wine like Riesling or Gewurtztraminer would go well with the corned beef and cabbage nicely, and stand up to the strong bite of condiments.
If a red wine is more your style, I would suggest a smooth Pinot Noir. A fuller-bodied red wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, might exaggerate the saltiness of the corned beef; a full-bodied wine is associated with strong tannins, which, when drunk with a salty food, taste more bitter in your mouth. A Pinot Noir, though, has relatively low tannins, but is still strong enough to match the red meat.
When you’re done with dinner, be sure to save the water! Refrigerate the liquid overnight, and skim the fat from the top the next day. You’ll have a nutritious, tasty broth, which can easily be the basis of a soup later on. (It might also serve as a convenient hangover cure, hot sustenance if you’re still feeling green, post St. Patty’s Day.)
So, here’s to your dinner this St. Patty’s Day: a simple, healthy, and hearty weekday meal, made all the more delicious when enjoyed with wine. That’s something to raise your glass to, whatever you’re drinking.