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.
Processing Corned Beef
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 Alternatives
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.
Poultry Replacements for Corned Beef
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. As a healthier, lean white-meat alternative, turkey will also help shed a few calories.
It is also possible to make your own alternative using turkey or chicken in a slow cooker. To do so, simply look up a Crock Pot corned beef recipe for the ingredient list and quantities. Substitute the chicken or turkey in for the beef, add the spices and allow the meat to slowly cook for a similar taste and experience.
Precooked vegetable protein rolls made from soy, milk and eggs are then flavored with corned beef spices to make it a suitable option for those who avoid meat but want a similar taste and meat-like texture. Vegetarian corned beef options are often available in most grocery stores and found in the frozen foods section of supermarkets, though the natural or health food section is also worth checking. Slices of vegetarian corned beef can be used for cold sandwiches or heated for dinner entrees along with traditional sides such as roasted potatoes. Seitan, which comes from the protein portion of wheat, can be flavored and cooked with traditional corned beef seasonings to satisfy vegans.
Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.