The New England Boiled Dinner has been a standard dish in these parts since Pilgrim days. In the time before ovens with electronic controls and timers and thermometers and who-knows-what labor-saving features, simmering dinner in a pot of water at least guaranteed a steady temperature for cooking.
That's the key here: everything cooks at the same temperature, so you control the degree of doneness by controlling how long each part cooks.
- Half-fill a large stock-pot with unsalted water, cider vinegar, and sugar and bring to a good simmer.
- Add the beef and simmer below the boil for 2 hours.
- Add the long-cooking vegetables. When the water returns to the simmer, cook for 10 minutes.
- Check the meat with a thermometer. At 165 degrees F the brisket should be perfectly tender. Keep an eye on it and take it out of the pot when it's ready. Cover it on a board and let it cool for a little while.
- After the long-cooking vegetables have cooked for 10 minutes, add the short-cooking vegetables and simmer them together for 10 minutes more.
- After the short cooking vegetables have cooked 10 minutes, add the cabbage. Let all the vegetables simmer together until they are tender enough to serve.
- Slice the meat across the grain into 1/4-inch slices and arrange on a large, warm platter.
- As the vegetables are ready, remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon and put them on the platter around the meat, arranging them for contrast of color and shape.
- Ladle a little of the hot cooking broth over the meat and serve hot with mustard or horseradish sauce.
The key to success is to cook each vegetable as long as it need and no longer. Take into account the size of the piece and how quickly it's likely to cook.
- Long-cooking vegetables: New boiling potatoes and boiling onions (whole if not too big); turnip, rutabaga, and carrots cut into 1/3-inch slices or chunks
- Short-cooking vegetables: Parsnips peeled and thin part halved, fat part quartered; pearl onions