corned_beef_okeefe_uragaEddie O’Keefe (left) and Molly Maguire’s chef Alfredo Uraga explain to PieHole why brined beef brisket shrinks when cooking. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)


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With St. Patrick’s Day less than a week away, the Green is about to go extra-Green. And as is the custom elsewhere, the Irish Diaspora here will celebrate the feast day of this Christian saint by eating…  a nice koshered Jewish brisket?

Well, sort of.

While many cultural traditions can lay claim to the practice of salting meat for preservation, in our country it was almost certainly the Jewish butchers who perfected the art of the corned beef.

But regardless of who invented it, PieHole’s primary concern is cooking up something delicious in our home kitchen and getting it onto our table. So we went looking for some tips on how to buy and prepare this holiday favorite, and headed to the kitchen of Rumson’s Molly Maguire’s Gastropub, where we met up with chef Alfredo Uraga.

Uraga tells PieHole that between this past Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Rumson and the holiday next week, he’ll prepare well over 1,000 pounds of corned beef. Meaning, this guy knows thing or two about getting the brisket to turn out right.

We also got Eddie O’Keefe to join us in the kitchen to share some tips. O’Keefe was chef/owner of the Shack in Sea Bright, helped open Woody’s Ocean Grille, and now works for a food distributor. Plus, he’s got an O’ in his name, which gives him license to O’Pine about Irish cuisine.

Their first tip – and the pair are in strong agreement here that this is a common mistake for home cooks – don’t boil the hell out of the brisket.

Uraga tells PieHole that a nice, very low simmer for four hours is what you want, followed by an extended resting period.

“Take it out of the pot and cover it with a clean, wet towel to let it cool down before you slice it,” says Uraga. “You have to let it rest so that all of the liquid doesn’t come out when you slice it.”

What to do while you’re waiting for the corned beef to rest? O’Keefe suggests cooking some potatoes in the water that you used to boil the brisket.

“Get small, red bliss potatoes so you don’t have to peel them,” he says.

The pair both suggested braising some cabbage to accompany the brisket. Uraga says to quarter the cabbage, but don’t cut the core out before you cook it.

“If you leave the core attached, the leaves will stay together while the cabbage cooks, then cut the core out before you serve it,” he says.

O’Keefe suggests a combination of Guinness stout and some of the water used to cook the brisket to braise your cabbage.

O’Keefe also notes that many of the store-bought briskets will contain up to 40 percent brine, meaning, you’re not necessarily getting four pounds of meat when you buy a four-pound brisket. So size up appropriately, depending on the number of people you’re feeding.

If, on the other hand you follow PieHole’s lead and patronize your local butcher, you’re much more likely to get a brisket that’s more beef than brine.

Ralph Citarella of Citarella’s Market in Red Bank tells PieHole that he has brisket for sale that is just 20 percent brine. “Most grocery store shoppers are paying for water, not beef,” says Citarella.

Likewise, Stew Goldstein at Monmouth Meats tells PieHole that he brines his own briskets. Goldstein isn’t certain of the exact percentage, but assures us that it will not shrink down nearly as much as your typical grocery store corned beef.

Enjoy your holiday eats, and let us know if you’ve got any special tips or St. Patrick’s Day food traditions that you’d like to share.