Simple, Tasty Bully Beef (Corned Beef)

Last weekend, I had such a craving for bully beef and rice that I decided to make it for dinner. As I was chopping up the onions, scallions and tomato, I began thinking. Why is it called bully beef? Why is it red? How did it get to Jamaica? And why do we love it so much?

Bully beef is how we English speakers say beouf bouilli, which is French for boiled beef. It’s the brisket cut that is cooked in brine, shredded, and canned (think Spam) with a coat of gelatin or crystallized oil that melts when you cook the beef.

Bully beef was, until 2009, part of the rations that British soldiers received. I suspect the reason for its popularity in Jamaica and the Caribbean might be that the men who fought during the war brought it with them when they returned home. 

Bully beef and rice
Bully beef and rice

Bully beef is the name that was popular back in high school, when we made and sold bully beef sandwiches to raise money for our graduation. Corned beef is what almost everyone calls it now. But it’s not the same corned beef that’s a favorite of Irish and Jewish diners.

Once in a while we’d have bully beef for breakfast and sometimes, with white rice for dinner but it wasn’t a staple in our home. I can’t remember how my graduating class agreed to use it to raise money and considering how popular patties and coco bread were, I’m surprised we made money. But we didn’t have enough hands to sell those tasty little rolls that we stuffed with bully beef mashed with chopped onions, black pepper and mayonnaise.

Simple Bully Beef (Corned Beef)
Serves 4


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Ingredients
  1. 1 Can bully beef (look for corned beef)
  2. 1 medium onion (chopped)
  3. 1/2 small Scotch bonnet pepper (chopped, seeded)
  4. 1 small tomato (chopped)
  5. 1 sprig thyme
  6. ½ sweet pepper
  7. Dash black pepper
  8. 1 can mixed vegetables or 1 cup shredded cabbage (optional)
Instructions
  1. Saute onions and Scotch bonnet until they become soft.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes, let cook.
  3. Open can of bully beef, stir it into the tomato, onion
  4. Add sweet pepper and other vegetables
  5. Season with thyme, and black pepper to taste
  6. Let cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Serve with brown or white rice and your choice of vegetables.
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I had another memorable bully beef meal when five of my aunts and uncles turned up in the same city at the same time. The next morning for breakfast, my uncle’s wife fried up green plantains, which she masked with a fork, and bully beef.

That breakfast took my aunts back to their youth and that all started chattering not only about breakfast, which was a hit, but also about their mother and the women in their community used to make the best cakes, the best sweets. It was the first time I was having green plantains and was delighted how well it complimented the slight saltiness of the bully beef. Weeks after I returned home, I ate nothing but plantain and bully beef.

Bully beef is like Ramen noodles – quick, tasty, filling and, at the time, inexpensive. It’s also very versatile. I ate a lot of it after I got my first apartment. I’d make bully beef with cabbage, green or ripe plantains, dumplings, green bananas, even pasta.

Much of the bully beef that is on the supermarket shelves comes from South America. About two years ago, a US Department of Agriculture recall took it off the market. 

When the ban was lifted, the price jumped from roughly $3-4 to almost $6 a can. (In Jamaica, you can buy smaller sized cans for about $2-3.) That’s when I swore off bully beef. It made better sense to buy a pound of fish or even chicken instead. Maybe that’s why last weekend the taste came back so strongly.

I found two pages dedicated to Rice and Bully Beef on Facebook. Between them, they have almost 2,000 likes. Who knew so many people liked this simple dish?

 

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19 comments on “Simple, Tasty Bully Beef (Corned Beef)

  1. Corn Beef & Cabbage AKA Bully Beef & Cabbage Corn Beef and Cabbage which is also known as Bully Beef and Cabbage is one of those “lazy” one-pot Jamaican meals that is cooked when you are on the go. It is said to be a favorite of single men because of how easy it is to cook. Please be aware that the corn beef mentioned in this recipe is not the sliced corn beef that is typically seen in sandwich delis outside of the Caribbean but it is from a can. Jamaica and much of the English Speaking Caribbean call it bully-beef. Enjoy our Bully Beef and cabbage recipe.
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