The rise, fall and rise again of corned beef

John Pallagi, co-founder of award-winning online butcher Farmison & Co, on the resurgence of salt-cured meat


The history of corned beef in the British Isles dates back to the late ninth century. Its name derives from the large rock salt crystals used in the brine, known as corns of salt. And while salt-curing beef has long been prevalent in cultures the world over, corned beef itself really came into its own in the UK during the industrial revolution, when it became a staple in the military due to its non-perishable nature.

Throughout the second world war, it was eaten by soldiers in rations and civilians back home. People of a certain vintage may remember tins of corned beef with a sort of mushy white coating which had to be scraped off, making an appearance in their lunches. In the 90s and through the turn of the millennium, corned beef fell out of favour with consumers, but today it has begun growing in popularity again.

How is it made?

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Each producer will have their own recipe, but the techniques are fundamentally the same. At Farmison & Co, our recipe uses beef forequarter (whole muscles), cured in brine for seven days, and given a tiny whiff of smoke – just enough for aroma rather than taste – then cooked overnight. Finally, it gets hand shredded, pressed into terrines with a little beef bone broth and left to set before packing.

How to serve it

Katz’s Delicatessen in New York, one of the modern homes of corned beef, is fairly purist in its approach and doesn’t do much adorning, with the exception of mustard and piled-high pickles – but strictly no ketchup or mayonnaise.

At home, corned beef is delicious with a fried egg for a high protein breakfast; with pickled walnuts or gherkins and watercress on toasted sourdough for lunch; warmed through with some buttered new potatoes, a crunchy green salad and Dijon mustard for supper; or on rye bread with horseradish, cut small for drinks parties.

Two other good recipes of ours are a spicy shredded beef and cheddar turnover (recipe here) or classic corned beef hash (recipe here).

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