One-Pot New England Boiled Dinners Are Effortlessly Flavorful

It's a wonder how much flavor a salted fatty piece of meat with a couple of vegetables can actually contribute to a pot of hot water. With the right choice of ingredients, a New England boiled dinner can hit that sought-after comfort food spot, especially as the weather starts to cool down. It also happens to be wildly simple to make; all that's required is meat, potatoes, some vegetables, and a bit of patience.

The New England boiled dinner is essentially those plates of boiled cabbage and corned beef that tend to pop up on Irish pub menus around St. Patrick's Day, but this doesn't make it by any means exclusive to the holiday. The dish most likely does come from Irish immigrants around the Boston, Massachusetts area, but the tradition has spread across the region from the mountains of Vermont to the coasts of Maine, spawning localized variations that occasionally become the center of debates about preferred recipes. Suffice it to say that corned beef and cabbage are far from the only types of flavorings for a boiled dinner.

How to boil a New England dinner

The most traditional method of making a New England boiled dinner is to simply place the salted meat inside of a pot and slowly simmer for a couple of hours until it's tender. The slow part is essential here; boiling meat too fast will have the opposite of the desired effect and make your cut too tough. It also helps to add some seasonings, like peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves. Those St. Paddy's Day corned beef packs you see in the supermarket commonly come with seasoning packets, but you can always add your own, as well.

The additional ingredients — which usually consist of potatoes, cabbage, and a selection of root vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, or rutabagas – enter the bath after the meat is done. Onions are also a common choice although this isn't entirely orthodox. Esther Serafini — who helped run the historic Homestead Inn in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire — was incensed about a cookbook printing her recipe with the addition of onions (per New England).

If you still feel like you don't have enough time or energy to simmer meat for four or more hours after a long day, you can always use a slow cooker machine at the beginning of the day and wait until dinnertime. And if you're feeling adventurous, you can try boiling your dinner in beer, as well. A dark, robust variety, like Guinness, works best.

Variations on the boil

Brisket also works in place of corned beef, as does ham shoulder. Thick sausages like kielbasa make for a satisfying outcome – though this is less traditional, and it's probably best to fry them first. The coastal areas will substitute fish for red meat and use cod inside their boiled dinners. Even outside the borders of New England, variations on this style of meal are all over the Eastern seaboard of Canada, including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, the latter where the dish is known as Jigg's dinner and sometimes boiled with a dessert called Figgy Duff.

The New England boiled dinner is a dish that grew out of the poverty of urban immigrants and rural farmers, a simple recipe that makes use of the few edible resources that were available to these folks. That doesn't mean that there's a pitiable sadness to the boiled dinner, however; on the contrary, it's a testament to the ingenuity of those who made use of all they had to eat, a complete and well-rounded meal that includes everything anyone needs from dinner, and as a bonus, acts as a source of warmth for those bitter New England winters. Try tasting a boiled dinner, and you'll see how much of a hearty meal it is — in more ways than one.