My Irish curse
There’s an old Irish saying: “May you be in heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead!”
Here’s a new one: “May you be in heaven a half hour, laughing with a beer in your hand, while the Devil endures the hell of eating lousy corned beef at Wilkin's house.”
Daniel Webster beat the Devil with words; if Old Scratch ever visits my Albany headquarters around St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll beat him with indigestion. That’s because I’ll serve him corned beef, a dish I never cook correctly.
He’ll chew slices for 15 minutes, like taffy. He’ll wonder why the reddish-colored meat is stringy and tough. He’ll spit out pieces of fat, throw down his pitchfork in dietary disgust and look at me with anguish: “What in the HELL did you do to ruin this meat?” he’ll scream.
I’ll tell the Old Gentleman the truth. I can’t cook corned beef. I’ve tried for years, and had another mess on my hands Sunday night. Even ketchup could not save the day.
Some people think the Irish curse refers to a weakness for liquor. Not at my house.
I’ve tried boiling and simmering big slabs in large pots; I’ve stuffed the stuff in crock pots. This time around, I tucked the beef into a comfy pocket of aluminum foil, poured in a little beer, a little water and a bunch of spices.
The wrapped package went into a sturdy aluminum cake pan, and I followed directions to bake for about an hour and 40 minutes, 350 degrees. When I took it out, the beef was not completely cooked. So I invested in another 30 minutes of low heat, and was soon enjoying corned beef that had more in common with Bazooka than the Blarney Stone.
My Irish ancestors from County Cork are probably laughing around their fiddles. My grandfather, Frank J. Kane, must be shaking his head sadly in the Great Beyond. Of course, corned beef is more an American invention than an Irish delicacy. But as a fan of tradition, I love a plate of the red beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots around March 17.
I’ve written stories about the guys at Hibernian halls who cook this stuff. I’ve hung out with chefs at Schenectady County Community College for The Gazette’s “SCCC Kitchen” feature — and have picked up a few culinary tips as a result. Nothing has helped my Irish dish. It has never come out the way restaurants cook the stuff; I used to visit Brandon’s restaurant on Van Vranken Avenue for an Irish lunch. This local spot offered corned beef that just about — and I hate to use the cliche — melted in your mouth. It was that tender.
Other people do not have this problem. “Yeah, I cooked some this weekend,” said Marc Schultz, who takes photographs for this newspaper, and also has had the chance to hobnob with SCCC experts. “Threw it into a crock pot for about eight hours. Melted in your mouth.”
I’m actually a pretty decent bachelor cook. I make a pretty good chili con carne, I’m a cool hand with an omelet pan. My meat loaf and mashed potatoes are in Howard Johnson’s class. Steaks, shrimp and London broil are in my repertoire for the charcoal grill. Potato salad, I’m not too bad here, either. I’m not in Phyllis Sharp’s league (Phyllis is the Greenwich spud sorceress), but I can take my Festival Potato Salad (with paprika, curry and plenty of hard-boiled eggs) to any summer picnic without patrons facing gustatory reprisals in bathroom or bushes.
Next March, my best bet will be a half-pound of deli corned beef at my local Price Chopper. I’ll fix a nice plate of carrots, potatoes, cabbage and warmed up, store-bought corned delicacy. I’ll put “Finnegan’s Wake” on the stereo and a fire in the fireplace.
Still have time, and this plan might go into effect tonight.
I’ll make enough for two ... just in case it’s a slow night in Hell.