What Is Corned Beef?

Before digging into that delicious St. Patrick's Day feast, learn the history behind this classic dish.

Photo by Danny Kim

Nothing says “Irish” like corned beef and cabbage. But did you know that the dish was invented right here in the United States, and virtually no one in Ireland eats it? “When Irish immigrants came to America before the turn of the century, they didn’t know corned beef from a hole in the wall,” says Hasia Diner, Ph.D., a historian and the author of Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration ($23, amazon.com). So how did they hear about it? They were probably exposed to corned beef in the Jewish delis of New York’s Lower East Side, says Diner. As for the cabbage, it was an inexpensive vegetable that the Irish recognized from the Emerald Isle. Today corned beef and cabbage is a cornerstone of Irish-American culinary identity. And it’s magically delicious, no matter your roots.