I have always loved corned beef, even the canned version I tasted in France at the end of the Second World War, when we occasionally got American canned foods. Needless to say, it was far from the real corned beef that I came to love in New York.
The first time that my brother Roland came to New York I took him to the Stage Delicatessen to try their famous corned beef sandwich, made with fatty corned beef. He couldn’t believe how large and how good it was, and he simply adored it. I took him another day for a lunch of corned beef hash with a fried egg on top, and he loved that as well. I always think of him when I cook corned beef.
I am also very fond of the Reuben sandwich that we made at Howard Johnson’s, and it’s a favorite with Gloria and Norma Galehouse, my assistant, for lunch at the house. I mound pastrami or corned beef on pumpernickel or rye bread, and add slices of a good imported Gruyàre or Emmenthaler cheese, and sauerkraut. I like a lot of corned beef, not too lean and thinly sliced. I make Russian dressing, using a mixture of mayonnaise, a bit of ketchup, a little horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. With the dressing, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut all surrounding the corned beef in the middle, this great sandwich is sautéed in a nonstick skillet in a little oil and butter for four to five minutes a side, partially covered, until the whole center gets hot and the cheese melts. Cut in half and served with a beer, it is one of my best lunches.
At least once during the winter, often around St. Patrick’s Day, we cook corned beef in the classic way, with onions, potatoes, and cabbage. I add these vegetables to the corned beef at the end of the cooking time, so they retain their vibrant color and they don’t overcook. I always try to buy the point cut of corned beef. This is the side of the brisket that is thicker and has more fat than the cut called the flat end, which is thin, narrow, and too lean for my taste. These come vacuum-packed with curing liquid inside the package.
After the corned beef dinner comes the corned beef hash, which I enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I like to make my hash with Red Bliss, Yukon Gold, or Yellow Finn potatoes, boiling them in the skins until tender and then peeling the skins off. We served this dish at Howard Johnson’s, and in the spirit of how we used to prepare it there, I still chop my potatoes for the hash with the sharp-edged end of an empty can opened at both ends.
Put the unopened vacuum-packed point cut piece of corned beef into a pot with water to cover that has been heated to about 180°F. Keeping the water temperature at about the same level, cook the beef for 3 hours. (Sometimes the bag cracks in the water and some of the juice comes out, but it doesn’t really matter.)
After 3 hours of cooking, remove the corned beef from the bag and put it back in the pot with the potatoes, the onions, the leek, and the cabbage. (When preparing just the corned beef, cook it in the bag the entire time.) Continue to cook for an additional 45 minutes to an hour. At that point, the corned beef will have an internal temperature of 170 to 180°. Cut the corned beef against the grain into thin slices, and serve on warm plates with the vegetables and a little of the cooking liquid.