I was jinxed! The very same day a friend asked me if I had ever made something that flat-out flopped, it happened. Usually, my kitchen disasters hinge on my general clumsiness, like dropped salad bowls (full of salad) or spilled wine (red, of course).
But around this time last year, I unwittingly rendered a soup I had successfully made many times virtually inedible. While preparing the following soup for a St. Patrick’s Day meal, I decided to incorporate some beer into the mixture. I’ve done this many times with chili, and it’s commonly used in Irish stew.
While I often cook with a basic lager or Corona, this time I used an IPA that I had on hand. While it tasted good when I took a sip before adding it to the slow cooker, over time a pronounced bitter flavor emerged. I stood over what was supposed to be dinner and cringed at the thought of wasting so much food.
I mentioned it to my husband, who said I should just scoop out the solids and leave the broth behind. But even that was not enough to eradicate the overwhelming bitterness. There was no way this was going to pass muster.
In a last ditch effort, I drove to the store and bought more broth. Then I dumped the entire contents of the slow cooker into a large strainer and rinsed it. From there, I returned the cabbage mixture to the slow cooker and added fresh broth. The end result was a soup that lacked the full benefit of a long simmer with the corned beef and vegetables–but it was far better than the harsh tasting alternative!
I am by no means a beer expert, but a little research revealed that IPAs typically have a high ratio of hops to malt (pale ales, on the other hand, tend to have more balanced malt-to-hop levels). It’s the hops that lend bitterness, and this can become more pronounced with extended cooking and when paired with certain foods.
Although the right beer would likely add an extra dimension of flavor in this St. Patrick’s Day-inspired twist on the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal, I have since stuck with the all-broth option that has long been a hit with my family. In fact, I always marvel at how much my husband and teenage boys rave about this simple, veggie-rich soup. And leftovers improve with age.
Yield: 6-8 servings
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth*
- 2 pounds corned beef, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks**
- 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, chopped (do not peel)
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced (8-9 ounces)
- 2 stalks celery, diced (any leaves may be included)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 small head green cabbage (or half a large), quartered, stem removed, and chopped (1 1/2 pounds or 5-6 cups chopped)
- 1 bay leaf and/or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Optional for serving: chopped fresh parsley or a sprig of fresh thyme
- Add all of the ingredients to a large (6-7 quart) slow cooker, and toss to combine. (I use low-sodium chicken broth with about 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and ground black pepper. You may wish to add half that amount and adjust seasonings later if your broth is not low in salt.) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beef and vegetables are tender. (I think the corned beef stays more tender when cooked on low, but if time is short you can cook on high for about 3 hours.)
- Transfer the corned beef chunks to a plate, cool slightly, and then dice. (I prefer fairly small pieces.) Return the beef to the slow cooker, and stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed, then remove the bay leaf and/or thyme sprigs.
- Serve warm, garnished with fresh herbs if desired.
- *Though measuring in at just under 6 cups, a 32-ounce box and a 14.5 ounce can of chicken broth may be used. If you like a brothier soup, have an extra can on hand or start with two 32-ounce boxes. Homemade stock may be used; in this case, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- **I prefer to use a flat cut of corned beef as opposed to a point cut. Both are sold in the meat department (fresh, not frozen) and often come with a small spice packet. I omit the spice packet. If you wish to use it, wrap the contents in a piece of cheesecloth and remove after cooking. This way you won’t have whole spices floating in your soup.