Say the words corned beef and I immediately think of quick-cooking dishes, comfort food and a taste of home.
A can of corned beef can be found in almost every Caribbean kitchen. It is one of those must-have items that we stock for that just-in-case moment. Just in case I need to cook something quickly. Just in case I didn’t make it to the market for vegetables and meat. Or, just in case I have a craving for corned beef.
Whenever my mom cooked corned beef it was always like a treat and there never seemed to be enough so she used to stretch it by cooking the corned beef with potatoes. We’d eat it with rice and loads of pepper sauce and sliced cucumbers. Ummmm, it tasted so good! If the corned beef was cooked at dinnertime, then we had it with roti. Mom did not cook corned beef often but when she did, my siblings and I were over-the-moon with happiness. As I mentioned in a previous column, there was a time in Guyana when many canned items were banned and the scarcity of such items put their prices at a premium, hence the corned beef being a treat.
All brands of corned beef are not created equal. Some I find to be saltier than others. And some simply lack flavour. I like corned beef prepared simply – with sautéed onions and if in season, tomatoes. I prefer it the way mom cooked it with potatoes. Other ways I’ve had corned beef – as a sandwich; mixed into the cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese pie, stirred into chowmein noodles and as a type of Bolognese sauce over pasta.
Did I tell you about the time my brother made curried corned beef with baked beans? Everyone got in late from work and we were hungry. Eon decided that he was going to cook and sure enough, there was corned beef on hand. We thought, okay, this is going to be a quick cook. The rice finished in the requisite time but we all had to wait as my brother the master chef decided to doctor the can of corned beef by flavouring it with curry powder and then dumping an entire can of baked beans into the pan. Don’t bother to ask how it tasted, suffice to say when you’re hungry you can eat just about anything.
I think that for many people, eating corned beef brings back many childhood memories and a taste of home. When my best friend was doing her Ph.D. in the USA several years ago, in the midst of writing her dissertation, she felt a longing for home and rushed out to the supermarket to get a can of corned beef. Her mom used to make corned beef and rice for them or her dad would make pasta and stir in the corned beef. Much to my friend’s chagrin, there was not a can of corned beef to be found in the places she searched. She called me to complain, “What kind of society are we living in when someone cannot find a can a corned beef in the supermarket?”
I had a corned beef fright when I was about 12 years of age. I had gone to Trinidad on holiday and was dumbfounded when I saw a family friend feed an entire can of corned beef to their dog! Two things ran through my mind, “Oh my gosh, this dog is so lucky and gets really fancy food.” And, “If the dog is being fed corned beef, have I been eating dog food?!” It may sound funny now but the thought of corned beef being dog food tormented me until my mother set my mind at ease.
So when last have you had some corned beef? Do you always keep a can in your cupboard, just in case…? When you cook it, how do you like to prepare it? Do you think of corned beef as comfort food or a taste of home?
Fried Corned Beef & Potatoes
1 can corned beef
1 large potato, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 cup sliced onions
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup diced tomatoes (optional)
2 tablespoons oil
2 green onions sliced (white and green parts)
1 large frying pan with cover
1 large spoon
1. Add oil to pan and heat on medium heat
2. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Season with salt and pepper
3. Add tomatoes (if using)
4. Add potatoes, toss to mix with onions (and tomatoes), reduce heat to low, cover pan and let cook for 15 minutes our until potatoes are cooked
5. Add corned beef, breaking up the chunks. Give a generous sprinkle of black pepper. Let cook for 1 minute then toss with potatoes. Try not to break up the potatoes too much. Let cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until the corned beef becomes deep pink in colour
6. Stir in green onions and serve with rice, roti, pasta or bread
● Taste the corned beef straight from the can to gauge the amount of salt needed for the dish
● Omit the potatoes to cook just fried corned beef and reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon