Although often associated with the Irish immigrants that settled here in the New World, a boiled dinner is traditional New England one-pot comfort food. In my childhood farming family, the preparation of a boiled dinner was a two day process: a smoked pork picnic shoulder or ham was cooked slowly in a large pot on top of the wood stove all day Saturday, and slices of meat, falling off the bone were served with Saturday night baked beans.
On Sunday, the reserved cooking liquid was returned to the pot, and an assortment of root vegetables; potatoes, carrots, onions, yellow turnip (rutabaga), parsnips and cabbage were added and cooked to tender perfection. The meal was served up on a large platter with the customary condiments of spicy brown mustard or horseradish, cider vinegar, and plenty of homemade pickles.
Boiled dinner is a cuisine and technique known to many other cultures. The French version, pot au fue, is one of the most celebrated dishes of France. This quintessential family fare is cartilaginous meat (oxtail, marrowbone, veal, beef) cooked with savory vegetables. Italian bollito misto consists of various cuts of tougher beef or veal, and often a whole hen, simmered in a vegetable broth. Even the English have a version known as boiled beef.
A commonsense meal with no exotic ingredients, boiled dinner is solid food offering plenty of calories that will take a good day’s work to burn off. Preparation of a proper boiled dinner, while simple, is not to be taken lightly. For optimum flavor, the meat should come complete with a bone, and be cooked very slowly, until falling apart – tender. The root vegetables, dug from the good earth and stored in the root cellar, should be pared and cut into pieces that will cook evenly in the savory broth.
The remains of a Sunday boiled dinner become encores for meals for the week: sandwiches slathered with mustard and stuffed with tender meat, Red Flannel hash topped with a fried egg, and hearty bean and vegetable stew.
NEW ENGLAND BOILED DINNER
- 4– 5 pounds smoked pork picnic shoulder ham, or corned beef brisket
- 6 medium potatoes scrubbed and peeled
- 1 or 2 rutabaga cut into chunks
- 6 medium carrots
- 6 onions optional
- 1 medium head cabbage cut into wedges
- Other optional vegetables: parsnips, turnip, beets
- In a large pot, cover the meat with cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook at this temperature until the meat is very tender, and falls off the bone, 3 – 4 hours.
- Remove the meat from the pot to a platter, cover with foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the cooking liquid. * Add the potatoes, rutabaga or turnip, carrots and onions to the pot. Lay the cabbage wedges over the top of the vegetables. Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 – 30 minutes. If serving beets, cook them in a separate pot.
- Slice the meat and place in the center of the platter. Arrange the vegetables on the platter surrounding the meat and serve with mustard, horseradish, pickles and vinegar.
- Makes six generous servings with enough leftovers to make hash or soup.