Corned beef is made from beef brisket and is traditionally braised with cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. At delicatessens, it is served cold and sliced as a sandwich ingredient. The unique flavor of corned beef is difficult to mimic but several alternatives have been developed for people who have an aversion to authentic corned beef based on health or philosophic reasons.
Despite its name, real or fake corned beef has no corn in it or its seasonings. The name comes from the coarse salt used in the original curing process for bona fide corned beef, whose large particles used to be called corns of salt. The modern corning process for true corned beef submerges the beef brisket roast in water mixed with salt, nitrite and pickling spices to impart it with rich flavors and make the meat tender. The same process is used for poultry treated to taste like corned beef. Meatless versions of corned beef include spices and flavorings used in real corned beef but there is no curing process involved.
Cured Beef Alternates
Pastrami can replace corn beef although it has a slightly different flavor. Some pastrami is cured with sugar and New York style pastrami is much spicier than corned beef. Montreal-style corned beef, usually called smoked meat or smoked beef, is typically cured with molasses or sugar before it is slow-smoked to cure it. In Denmark, corned beef is called cured meat or lightly salted beef brisket and is eaten cold or hot. Canned corn beef has less taste than the other alternatives, has a higher fat content and its stringy consistency makes it hard to slice for sandwiches.
As a healthy alternative to corned beef, choose turkey corned beef. Although slightly lighter in color, turkey corned beef and turkey pastrami are cured with the same spices and processes as regular corned beef and pastrami but have significantly less fat and salt content as well as lower levels of nitrites.
Meat Free Alternatives
Precooked vegetable protein rolls made from soy, milk and eggs and flavored with corned beef spices are available in the frozen food sections of some supermarkets. They can be used for cold sandwiches or heated for dinner entrees. Seitan, which comes from the protein portion of wheat, can be flavored and cooked with traditional corned beef seasonings.
References and ResourcesJewish Recipes: Corned Beef
Serious Eats: The Food Lab's Guide to Corned Beef and the Science of Simmering; J. Kenji Lopez-Alt; March 2011
The Vegetarian Resource Group: Seitan--The Vegetarian Wheat Meat
The Vegan RD: Vegan Corned “Beef” and Cabbage: Happy St Patty’s Day!