Corned beef, (also bully beef in the UK), is a cut of beef (usually brisket, but sometimes round or silverside) cured or pickled in a seasoned brine. The "corn" in "corned beef" refers to the "corn" or grains of coarse salts used to cure it. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage of "corn," meaning "small hard particle, a grain, as of sand or salt," to 888, and the term "corned beef" to 1621. The term "corned beef" can denote different styles of brine-cured beef, depending on the region. Some, like American-style corned beef, are highly seasoned and often considered delicatessen fare.
In the United States, corned beef is often purchased precooked, as in delicatessens. Perhaps the most famous sandwich made with it is the traditional corned beef on rye, a very thick sandwich made with thinly sliced corned beef, "Jewish" rye bread made with caraway seeds, and mustard or horseradish. Also famous is the Reuben sandwich, consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island or Russian dressing on rye bread which is then grilled on a flat griddle or in a cast iron pan. The reuben sandwich is served hot.
In certain regions, such as in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Corned Beef Special is a popular offering. It is served cold, and is made by first steaming the corned beef and topping it with coleslaw, and then placing both between rye bread that is coated with Russian dressing. The Corned Beef Special is frequently thought to have first been developed by Charles Weber at R&W Deli in Philadelphia in 1957.
In the United States, corned beef is also associated with Saint Patrick's Day, when many Irish Americans eat a traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage. According to the History Channel, while cabbage has become a traditional food item for Irish-Americans, corned beef was originally a substitute for Irish bacon in the late 1800s. Irish immigrants living in New York City's Lower East Side sought an equivalent in taste and texture to their traditional Irish bacon, and learned about this cheaper alternative to bacon from their Jewish neighbors. A similar dish is the New England boiled dinner, consisting of corned beef, cabbage, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes, which is popular in New England and parts of Atlantic Canada. Also similar is the traditional Newfoundland boiled dinner, sometimes called "Jiggs' Dinner" which uses the same ingredients as a New England dinner, except that it uses Salt Beef. This is a meat cured in brine (essentially coarse salt and water) and was commonly used in the days of sailing ships and the fishery which was Newfoundland's main economic stay. The meat though similar to corned beef and smoked meat is markedly different in taste and initial preparation. Today it is sold as a delicacy and is wet packed in plastic pails to be sold in local grocery stores and in some Newfoundland specialty shops.
The Saint Patrick Day tradition caused controversy among American Catholic dioceses in 2000 and 2006, when the holiday fell on a Friday during Lent. Lenten custom dictates that no meat be consumed on Fridays during Lent, but some bishops granted dispensations to their dioceses for eating corned beef on St Patrick's Day.
Corned beef hash is commonly served as a breakfast food with eggs and hash browns.
Smoking corned beef, usually with the addition of extra spices such as black pepper, produces a cold cut known as pastrami.
Two canned versions of commercial corned beef are sold in Germany. The original is usually called American Corned Beef and consists of finely shredded corned beef with a high fat content and is similar to Spam. A newer version is called Deutsches Corned Beef and is closer to the product described above. It is not as finely shredded, it contains chunks of corned beef and is usually embedded in aspic. Deutsches Corned Beef is also sold in slices at supermarket meat counters and butcher shops.
In England and along the British Isles corned beef is usually bought in canned form but can also be bought in packets already sliced up. It is usually regarded as a cheap food alternative and known in UK military circles as bully-beef.
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