Now We're Cooking

Now We’re Cooking: Mama Jamison’s Corned Beef

It’s 12:10 in the afternoon and I’m on the phone with my mother. Sandra Jamison’s a charming little lady, standing at about 4′ 10″ (she says 4′ 11,”) who has a way with words. “What do you mean a recipe? Something that has to rhyme or what? Like 2 pounds of sugar, three pounds of love? Girl you caught me off guard!”

My mother is one of those old-school cooks. You know, the ones who have a hard time giving you exact measurements of ingredients when cooking a meal because they just throw enough of whatever the recipe calls for in there and it’s just the right amount. Yeah. So it was a little hard getting this corned beef, candied yams and corn bread recipe for you guys. But I did; just in time for Mother’s Day.

Right now, I’m listening intently as she breaks down her age-old recipe for her signature corned-beef brisket.

“This is what I do, okay? When making a corned beef brisket, first of all you make sure there is SOME fat on it, but not too much. There’s two parts of a corn beef. One is flat and one is point. The point cut is the cheaper cut of a corned beef brisket. You always get flat cut, never a point.”

I pause her to get the most essential part of the recipe. A list of ingredients:

1 medium sized corned beef brisket

2 1/2 cups of water

1 baking pan

1 baking bag or aluminum foil

3-4 large sweet potatoes peeled and chopped

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cinnamon

16 oz. corn meal

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1 cast-iron skillet

1 saucepan

1 medium sized boiling pot

Now we’re back.

Mom: Normally, the Irish boil it with cabbage and potatoes. I don’t. So what I do is I take a shallow baking pan and put a half of cup of cool water in it. You take the brisket and put it in the baking bag, fatty side facing up.

JET: Do you trim some of the fat?

Mom: No because you’re going to make sure that it isn’t too fat when you buy it. If you have excess fat, trim it off, but always leave some fat on the brisket for seasoning.

Now chefs recommend that you cook a brisket for 15 minutes per pound until tender at 350 degrees, but I cook it longer. You don’t want it to dry out. That’s why you put it in the baking bag or wrap it in foil. Do not use the seasoning that comes with it, it makes it too salty. But if you want, you can put the seasoning on top of the corned beef (fatty side up).

JET: How much longer is “longer?”

Mom: When we have ours, it’s usually a 5 lb. brisket, but I still cook it for 3 hours. But if you’re boiling it, cook it for the recommended 15 minutes per pound. Every hour, take a fork and stick it all around the brisket. If the fork doesn’t come right out, then you know it’s done.

JET: Why do you bake your corned beef as opposed to boiling it?

Mom: The boiling takes most of the seasoning off.

JET: Now what sides do you cook with it?

Cabbage is the traditional side. Boiled red potatoes. A lot of people also add carrots. I prefer to cook candied yams and corn bread.

JET: Okay walk us through the candied yams. 

Mom: Take 3 or 4 sweet potatoes. Make sure they’re firm and not soft. Peel and chop them into quarters. Add your brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and boil in 2 cups of water or however much you need to cover the potatoes. Boil them until they’re tender. When the potatoes get tender and everything, transfer them to another pan to place in the oven so they can get candied. Since they’re half done and tender already, bake for 20-30 minutes at 325 degrees.

For the cornbread, or muffins, depending on what you prefer, combine the corn meal, flour, two eggs, salt, sugar, milk and butter into a bowl and mix until whipped. Transfer the mixture to a cast iron skillet (the best thing you can bake it in), but make sure that you put oil in the skillet so the bread won’t stick. Bake it until it gets nice and brown at 350 degrees.

JET: Why is everything 350 degrees?

Mom: Oh that’s just what I keep the oven on. It’s already hot by the time the cornbread is ready to be cooked anyway (laughs).