10 Underrated Uses For Corned Beef

People across the world know corned beef as a cheap and convenient (and often canned) meat, salt-cured to keep it fresh, and with a characteristic pink color from the nitrates used to preserve it. In the U.S., it's popularly enjoyed by the Irish diaspora on St Patrick's Day, as a celebration of their cultural heritage. This tradition, however, is not shared by Ireland itself, where corned beef has a rather complicated history.

The first reference to corned beef in Irish culture is in an old poem, "Aislinge Meic Con Glinne," in which it's described as a delicacy for a king. At the time, cattle were considered valuable for farm work and producing milk, and the salt used to preserve meat was prohibitively expensive. As a symbol of wealth, sacred to the Gaelic people, cows weren't eaten unless they were too old to pull plows. It wasn't until later on that corned beef became associated with Ireland, thanks to the British. As Smithsonian Magazine explains, once England had conquered Ireland, large-scale cattle farming began, eventually leading to industrial production of corned beef there. Later, when Irish immigrants in America began earning enough money to buy meat, corned beef was one of the easiest things for them to afford, and so the St Patrick's Day tradition began.

One of the best-known ways to enjoy corned beef is a simple corned beef hash. However, it's actually a surprisingly versatile meat with a range of uses. Corned beef can be much more than just a sandwich filling or part of a savory breakfast dish — check out all the more unexpected ways to use corned beef.

Corned beef curry

Curries are an entire category of dishes enjoyed across Southern Asia, known for their slow preparation, rich spices, and complex flavors. The beauty of a homemade curry, though, is that it's flexible enough that you can throw in a variety of ingredients, depending on what's available. Plenty of curries and other South Asian foods are made with ground meat, and corned beef can make for a surprisingly good main ingredient, whether you're making a beef curry or trying your hand at samosas.

One type of curry which works well with corned beef is keema. As the Hindustan Times explains, this is a simple curry made with ground meat. It's a basic dish that you can find on sale as part of Indian street food, and often cooked at home too. While it's usually made with lamb, keema can just as easily be made with ground beef — though, with its softer texture, a corned beef keema is likely to be softer, or "sloppier," than the usual dish. Packed with dense flavors, a spicy keema can be a wholesome evening meal, served with rice, and leftovers can keep well or even be frozen for another day. 

Another good use for keema is to combine it with another of South Asia's most famous foods, naan, the soft, doughy bread often served as a side dish with Indian meals. Stuffed with curried meat before being cooked on a hot skillet or baked in an oven, keema naan is a popular snack in India and elsewhere. Try it with corned beef and we think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how well it works.

Corned beef fritters

The beauty of fritters is that they can be made from almost anything. Just mix a batter, dip your intended food into it, and fry in hot oil until golden and crispy. From plantain fritters to sweet corn fritters, the recipe is much the same wherever you may be. A handy tip for a little more crunch to your finished fritters is to add a tablespoon of rice flour into your batter and mix it with cold water.

Corned beef fritters can be made in a few ways. The easiest is to slice it straight from the can, batter it, and then fry. Cooked just right, the corned beef should have a soft texture which will contrast nicely with the crispy batter exterior. Another option is to mash the corned beef and mix it into the batter, the same way you might make a mashed potato fritter. You can even try adding other ingredients to your corned beef fritters. On its own, the meat may taste a little plain, but you can impart a good flavor with a few spices, or even just some black pepper. It's also easy to mix in vegetables, like corn or diced bell peppers!

Corned beef pie

While pies in the U.S. are popularly made with sweet fillings, meat pies are a common food in Ireland and the U.K. They can be made with all kinds of fillings, with some popular ones including steak and ale, and chicken and leek. Another cheap and easy kind of meat to use for a pie filling is corned beef.

The simplest way to whip up a corned beef pie is to make the filling a combination of the corned beef and mashed potatoes (or maybe chunks of boiled potatoes), mixed well together. This makes a good base for your pie filling, and can be combined with whatever other ingredients you want to include. You can choose any combination of herbs, spices, or other ingredients you like, depending on your own tastes. Or, you can keep it simple and just have a plain corned beef and potato filling. The flexibility is part of what makes this dish great. 

Corned beef pies can have all the variety of any other type of pie, from small and bite-sized to a large pie for a family to enjoy. The latter type can be covered in pastry, latticed, or even left open like a quiche. It's perfect to make a filling dinner with some gravy and roasted vegetables, or just to enjoy a slice or two as a quick snack.

Corned beef croquettes

Croquettes can be a filling snack or a wholesome part of a larger meal. It may take a little practice to get them perfect, but they're not difficult to make and are enjoyed in a variety of countries around the world. The most common kind are simple potato croquettes, but they can also come with a variety of fillings, and meat is quite a common one. They usually use something like ground meat, meaning corned beef can make for an excellent substitute. Croquettes like these are very common in the Netherlands, and snacks like bitterballen are popular in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. Bitterballen, in particular, are shaped into balls and are a traditional food served in cafes.

Most croquettes are starchy, made with something like mashed potatoes to bind them together, before covering them in breadcrumbs and frying them. As with fritters, there are two ways to accomplish this — either wrapping the meat in mashed potato, or simply combining the two together — and both give a tasty, but slightly different, result. Again, while plain corned beef may be a little bland filling, it can easily be combined with other fillings, whether vegetables or spices, to give your croquettes extra flavor.

Corned beef musubi

A popular snack in Hawaii, spam musubi are based on Japanese recipes, made with a bed of rice and held together with nori, the sea vegetable best-known for its use in sushi rolls. A simple bite-sized snack to have at lunchtime, spam musubi are sold all over cities like Honolulu, where you can pick them up in most convenience stores. While corned beef and spam have very different textures, canned corned beef has a history as a kosher alternative to spam, being both pork-free and usually made from beef brisket.

While corned beef may be an unconventional choice for musubi, sliced corned beef can work just as well as spam. Musubis are easy to make — using minimal and simple ingredients, like sticky sushi rice and rice vinegar — and are popularly made in Japanese homes to eat for lunch. The only thing to be careful of is that corned beef can become crumbly when cooked, causing it to fall apart. One possible way around this is to fry it in a light batter (such as a tempura batter) to make sure your musubi doesn't disintegrate while you try to eat it.

Shepherd's pie

Shepherd's pie is a classic British comfort food, and a long-time working-class favorite. Simple to make using easily available ingredients, it mixes the wholesome flavors of mashed potato and ground meat, usually with a few garden vegetables. While shepherd's pie is usually made with lamb (hence the name), it works just as well with beef, or any other kind of meat for that matter. For those on a tight budget, a can of corned beef can make for a meal which is even cheaper, but no less filling.

Shepherd's pie is essentially a casserole. The pie filling is a stew of meat and vegetables that's then topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked to perfection. Herbs like rosemary can add some lovely aroma to your dish, but be careful about using stock cubes. While they'll make your pie much more flavorful, keep in mind that corned beef is already quite salty. You don't want to end up with your dish too salty to eat! A final tip is to sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of the mashed potatoes before you put the dish into the oven to give it a nice crispy — and cheesy — crust.

Corned beef tacos

Tacos are, without doubt, one of Mexico's most famous foods. They can be made with a variety of flavorsome fillings, but ground beef tacos are a popular choice. In most places where recipes use ground beef, corned beef can be a convenient option to use instead. Cutting a can of corned beef into chunks, it can be used in essentially the same way as regular ground beef, fried with onions and spices to make a tasty taco filling. One thing to be careful of, though, is that corned beef has a much softer texture than regular ground beef, so your tacos are likely to be a little messy to eat. Corned beef tacos are probably best enjoyed Mexican-style, wrapped in soft tortillas, rather than using the crunchy shells popular in Tex-Mex food.

Tacos aren't the only dish that can use corned beef as a substitute either. Being essentially just a cheap and easy-to-use kind of beef, it can be used in a variety of other popular Mexican foods, like enchiladas, burritos, or quesadillas. Alternatively, any leftover corned beef taco filling can be saved to make a round of delicious sloppy joe sandwiches.

Cornish pasties

Hailing from Cornwall, in the far southwest tip of England, Cornish pasties are a popular snack across the U.K. The Cornish Pasty Co. explains that they've been eaten in Cornwall since at least the 13th century, when they were originally popular with tin miners. Cornish pasties are traditionally made with a thick crust of pastry along one edge, which miners could use to hold their lunch while eating it, even if their hands were dirty. The crust could then be simply thrown away afterward.

A Cornish pasty makes a great lunchtime food, as it has for centuries. It consists of a bundle of ground meat spiced with black pepper and often mixed with diced vegetables, such as carrot and potato. The filling, though, can be extremely versatile, and homemade pasties may contain any kind of vegetables available, from chopped string beans to diced turnip. The choice of meat is flexible too and, of course, corned beef makes for a convenient choice. Pasties are made with shortcrust pastry, often buttery and with a slightly crumbly texture. Most bakeries brush their pasties with egg yolk for a golden color.

Cornish pasties are also very similar to some other foods, like the empanadas enjoyed in Spanish-speaking countries around the world, or the spicy beef patties, which are a favorite snack in Jamaica. If English food is slightly too plain for your tastes, perhaps you could try using corned beef in one of these recipes instead.

Taiwanese braised corned beef

Taiwan is known for a variety of tasty foods, from soup dumplings to flaky scallion pancakes, but braised pork is a favorite Taiwanese home recipe. Known as lu rou fan, per Michelin Guide, it's a quick and easy dish of minced pork, fried with onions and then braised with spices, served over a bed of steaming white rice. A warming lunch on a winter day, or an easy light dinner on a weeknight, lu rou fan makes for a flavorsome meal. It's also flexible enough that other meats (or even vegetarian alternatives, like beans) can easily be substituted into it. For an even easier options, a can of corned beef is an attractive choice.

For a dish like this, the softer texture of corned beef shouldn't be much of a problem, as it's eaten over rice anyway. With its mild taste, the corned beef should soak up the flavors of Taiwanese ingredients like ginger, Shaoxing cooking wine, and scallions. Accordingly, corned beef can also be used in other East Asian cooking, often to great effect. Just take care not to be too heavy-handed with the soy sauce, because corned beef is already quite salty, it can be easy to overdo the salt in your finished meal.

Tortang carne norte

One place where corned beef is often found in cooking is the Philippines. Being popular for its soft texture, corned beef can be found in a number of Filipino recipes, and one delicious choice is tortang carne norte. Per Gastronomiac, tortang carne norte is a simple corned beef omelet. It may also include a few extra ingredients for a fuller flavor, like garlic or scallions, and is usually seasoned with black pepper. If you find yourself in the Philippines, you're most likely to encounter this tasty little dish at breakfast time, usually served on a bed of rice.

Taking inspiration from this Filipino dish, corned beef goes very well in other egg-based recipes too, and it can be an interesting addition to similar fried dishes, like Japanese okonomiyaki. Light and crispy but surprisingly filling, omelet and pancake dishes can be eaten at any time of day, and the addition of a little corned beef can easily make a meal both more filling and nutritious.