[I didn't mention it at the time, but late last month Sweet Husband and I attended our very first Charcuterie Club meeting. The topic was corned beef, and--after learning all about it--we quickly came home and made some corned beef of our own. Here's an article I wrote about it for our local paper.]
While the dish is more Irish-American than truly Irish, for St. Patrick's Day there's not much that beats a plate of corned beef and cabbage. One thing that makes it better though, is making your own corned beef.
At a recent “meating” of the Lawrence Charcuterie Club, Dale Wheeler went through the steps to make home-cured corned beef. First, Wheeler noted that there is no corn involved at all. “Corn” is merely a reference to the size of the salt pellets—about the size of a grain of corn—that were historically used to preserve the meat. Second, you can “corn” just about any kind of meat. Indeed, I happily sampled corned beef, corned lamb, and corned venison. Despite being basically made in the same way, each had a slightly different texture and flavor.
And making corned meat is crazy easy. Essentially, you buy a big piece of meat, brine it for several days, then boil it until it's cooked. There's no magic involved, just a little planning ahead.
After the lesson, I was eager to try making corned beef for myself. With Wheeler's recipe in hand (which is a modified version of the recipe in the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman), I went shopping.
You probably have most of what you need to make corned beef in your pantry, but one thing that was a bit difficult to track down was “pink salt”, or sodium nitrite. While pink salt is optional, it's what gives corned beef its bright, red color. If you have time, you can order pink salt online, but it's also available at Steve's Meat Market in DeSoto or at Farview Farms Meat Company, just outside of Topeka.
A few additional pointers:
My brisket was three pounds, smaller than the recipe below suggests, so we brined it for one day less. The smaller brisket was enough for two meals for my family of three.
If you're cooking ahead of time, store the meat in a bit of the cooking liquid to keep it moist. (However, if you forget that step, like I did, you can simply boil the meat again for a few minutes to bring it back to life again!)
You can buy pickling spice at the store, but it's so much more aromatic if you make your own. Find a recipe on the internet and tailor it to your liking. The only thing to be aware of is that you probably won't want to use much, if any, red pepper flake.
Traditionally, you would add vegetables—carrots, cabbage, potatoes, onions—towards the end of boiling your corned beef, and boil it all together in the same pot. I tend to favor roasted vegetables, so I roasted some potatoes and cabbage separately.
Home-Cured Corned Beef (as adapted from Michael Ruhlman and Dale Wheeler)
2 cups (450 g) kosher salt
½ cup (100 g) sugar
5 teaspoons (25 g) pink salt (optional)
3 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons pickling spice, divided in half
5 pound beef brisket
Vegetables for serving
In a large pot, mix together 1 gallon of water and everything but the meat and half of the pickling spice. Heat the brine to a simmer, and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Let the brine cool to room temperature, and then chill in the fridge until it's below 40 degrees.
Once the brine is properly chilled—and that's an important step for food safety, so don't skip it—add the meat. Put a weighted plate on top to keep the meat submerged. Cover, and pop it in the back of your fridge for 5 days.
When you're ready to cook the corned beef, pull it out of the brine and rinse it off. Put it in a large pot, and cover it with fresh water. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of pickling spice and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 3 hours. You may need to add some extra water to keep the brisket covered, but just keep cooking it until it's fork-tender. Once it's done, slice it up and dig in!
[And P.S. Congrats to Stephinie on winning the Conscious Clothing giveaway!]