As promised, I set up a my kitchen laboratory last night to do an objective and scientific comparison of various corned beef products. Because these are the important questions.
In addition to the two I already had (in the round cans, purchased from Chinatown), I stopped by the grocery store and picked up every other variety the shop carried. All of which came in those weirdly shaped tapered cans that only corned beef comes in. At some point, I'm going to have to find out where that shape came about. But that wasn't on the agenda for this evening.
I present the contenders:
My guess was that the Palm brand there in the upper left was going to be the best in taste and quality, but was determined to remain objective for this trial. To ensure I did, I enlisted the Critter as my able assistant and supervisor.
Since the cans were of different sizes and shapes, we determined that our test would consist of 100g pre-cooked weight of each, measured on our calibrated scale. It is worth mentioning that the prices varied from £1.22 for the basic Princes to something equivalent to about £3.00 a can for the more expensive Palm brand. (That's not counting the shipping charges, since I can't source that locally)
Now, as everyone knows, the only way to eat corned beef properly is stir-fried with onions, served over hot steamed rice, and perhaps with a fried egg on top. But as this was a scientific trial, and not about serving one of the ultimate comfort foods of the Filipino nation, we stuck to plain corned beef, fried in our wok.
We measured each after cooking for an equivalent time to determine the lost fat. Once we accounted for some amount of natural loss through scraping or occasional intra-cooking tasting, most of them measured up to a roughly equivalent 12-14g weight loss during cooking. The notable exception were the Princes brand (of which there were 3 variants in our trial: Princes Finest, Princes Original, and Princes Lean.
A note on the cans: Each of the Princes came with a pull ring, but the other two tapered cans had the classic key opening method. You know, the one where you unroll the metal strip and flip open the can. And then you brush up against it while trying to scrap the corned beef out and slice open an artery, bleed out onto your kitchen floor and die to be found a week later , slumped into a heap of uncooked corned beef when the stench of your decaying body prompts your neighbor to call and complain to the local police department. Seriously. These things should be added to the banned list in the Geneva Convention.
With the cans all open side by side on the counter, the difference in texture between the higher and lower cost product was pretty visible. The expensive Palm brand showed visible chunks of meat and fat, pressed into the can. The lowest price stuff showed the consistency of pulped and extruded kibble, except maybe not quite so appealing.
Once cooked, we subjected each to a taste test. My bride, the Critter and I gave it an independent grade and then compared notes. Visually, there 'weren't that many differences amongst the products in the end. Each had a consistent color and cooked thoroughly within the given time.
Sure enough, Palm was the clear winner, but I have to admit that the "extra chunky" new find, Reno, was a pretty good second.
Bottom of the list were the Princes brands. All three judges gave these test samples the lowest available rating - There was no noticeable difference between the different Princes products. All of them tasted like bland, boiled woodshavings with the consistency of something I might scrape off of my shoes. Interestingly, all of the other brands specified that they were the product of one South American country or another (Brazil for the most part, Argentina for Palm). Princes, however, is the product of Liverpool, UK. I work in Liverpool, and I can tell you that there aren't a whole lot of cows on the Merseyside, relatively speaking. I set aside and refrigerated the other cans to cook up for a family meal, but these three went straight to the bin. Consider yourself warned.
The lesson here seems to be that if you want to score some good corned beef, get yourself to Chinatown, and look for one of the round cans. It makes a difference.
Suggestions for the next interval of "Gradygroove: Kitchen Science" are welcome.