Corned beef, the hero

Philip Harben, known as the TV chef and who actually was the first person to be called that, the first in the world, writes very fondly about tinned corned beef. Corned beef is a salted and preserved beef, and called corned, not because it has anything to do with corn but it is well salted, with ‘corns’ of salt. Because it keeps so well it has nourished armed forces from many countries in many wars, but particularly British troops during the two world wars. My father hated it; he had more than enough of it in his seven years serving his country and spoke with particular revulsion of pouring it from the tin when it had liquidised in the heat of North Africa, Greece, Italy, wherever he was at the time.

However, this is what Philip Harben has to say:

I suppose the most famous of all tinned meats is corned beef – hero of two world wars. Corned beef is not merely cooked, as all tinned foods are, it ids also cured with saltpetre, which greatly increases its keeping properties and gives it a distinctive colour and a very pleasant flavour.
Corned beef is not very firm in texture, so that it must be carved in rather thick slices.

He goes on to give a number of recipes in his little 1946 book, Cooking Quickly… I’m sure my husband would love most of them, they are real ‘boys” type meals!

  • corned beef and shallots – this is corned beef heated in gravy to which pickled onions without their vinegar have been added
  • corned beef fried in egg – as it is just after the war, and was probably created during the war, Mr Harben mentions reconstituted dried egg… beat the egg with a pinch of dried herbs, dip ‘chunky slices’ of corned been in the egg and fry
  • corned beef hash – this really is a boys’ dish – chop up the corned beef and throw it in a pan (yes, ‘throw’) with fat, mashed potatoes, cold cabbage, onions, mushrooms and, as he says, ‘almost anything you can lay your hands on’; fry it and let it ‘catch’ a little on the bottom of the pan to give it more flavour
  • corned beef cakes – mash corn beef and ‘pep up’ with onions, herbs and seasoning, add a quarter of its weight of  fat and equal weight of flour, moisten with a little water and roll it out so its ¾ inch thick, brush it with beaten egg then bake
  • corned beef pie – mash corned beef up with gravy and onions, put in a pie dish and cover with mashed potatoes, brown in the oven
  • corned beef omelette – make an omelette and fill it with corned beef, gravy and mushrooms
  • corned beef canapés – mash corned beef with gravy and mushrooms and pile on buttered toast or fried bread
  • corned beef bolognese – mash corned beef with tomato soup, thinning if necessary with hot water and add some Bovril or meat extract

Let me know if you try any of these?!


  1. David Lewis

    My mom made corn beef pie and I loved it. My wife makes shepherds pie with ground beef and vegetables instead of corned beef and it’s now my fave. I always insist the gravy have canned mushrooms in it. Getting hungry just talking about it.


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