Adventures in Charcuterie: Corned Beef

by TRH on March 6, 2013

in Cooking & Recipes

Post image for Adventures in Charcuterie: Corned Beef

For the record, I do know that Corned Beef actually isn’t that traditional an Irish dish. It certainly is a transplanted Irish dish however and has always been popular as a St. Paddy’s treat on this side of the pond. Personally as a Winnipegger it’s always been a favourite for sandwiches as well. Give me a proper Winnipeg Corned Beef on Rye with hot mustard over almost any other sandwich in the world (Montreal Smoked Meat being an exception of course.) Yet for some reason it had never occurred to me to try making it from scratch. I guess I’d always assumed it was something for which a commercial kitchen was required.

Chalk this one up to another adventure inspired by the Ruhlman/Polcyn book below:

After running across the recipe near the start of the book I was pretty astounded to discover that thanks to my pancetta I already had the one specialty ingredient required and that the process itself only required about an hour of hands on effort all told. Making Corned Beef is really only taking a beef brisket to plunk it in brine for a week or so followed by a quick boil. (For those who’ve always been curious the corned part refers to the salt shape in the old days apparently.) Brisket is one of those cheaper cuts that improves dramatically from long slow cooking and this is a perfect example. A quick stop at The Carver’s Knife later for a tasty looking brisket it was all happening.

Pickling Spice

I started out by making the pickling spice from scratch. The shot above is from about halfway through the grinding process. Unfortunately I can’t find my bigger mortar and pestle so I had to use a smaller one in tiny batches. The raw pickling spice is as follows: (slightly different from the book one)

Pickling Spice:

-2TBSP Black Peppercorns
-2TBSP Mustard Seed
-2TBSP Coriander Seed
-2TBSP Hot red pepper flakes
-2TBSP allspice berries
-2TBSP ground giner
-8 pods of cardomom
-~10 bay leaves crumbled up
-1TBSP cloves
-1 cinnamon stick crushed into pieces

Grind together and reserve.

Once this is done you’re ready to prep your brine. Honestly before this point I’d find out just how much space your brisket takes up, how much brine you’ll need to fill the appropriate container etc. You may not need this much (I certainly had extra.)

Note: This is for a ~5ish pound brisket

Brine
You will need a stock pot
-2TBSP of the pickling spice above (or store bought, whatever)
-4 litres of water
-1/2 cup of sugar
-2 cups of kosher salt
-25 grams of pink salt (Prague Powder #1, not that himalayan trendy stuff, for a lengthier discussion of this see the pancetta article)
-5 cloves of minced garlic

Bring all of this to a steady simmer and stir until everything is incorporated. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until cold.

Make sure the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.

Make sure the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.

Brine your meat

Day 2 of the brine

Day 2 of the brine

In an airtight container or strong ziplock bag make sure the meat is completely submerged in the brine. Use a plate to weigh it down if you need to. You will need to flip the meat every day for roughly a week. Mine definitely could have used an extra day (note the tiny grey spot on some of the photos) but anywhere from 5-8 days is normal depending on your brisket size.

After the brining

After the brining

Cook It!

Once the brine stage is complete it’s time to cook it. Toss out the brine first. Rinse the brine/any salt from your meat thoroughly then place the meat in a pot just big enough to hold it (I had to go back to the previously used stockpot.) Cover with water and add 1-2 TBSP of pickling spice depending on how much intensity you want it to have. Bring it to a boil then reduce to a quiet simmer for 3ish hours until you can fork shred it (but it’s not falling apart.)

After 3h15m

After 3h15m

I pulled mine at about 3 hours 15 mins and let it stand for a while as I cooked some potatoes and cabbage in the meat water. The longer you leave it sitting the easier it will be to thin cut. One recipe I looked at suggested letting it cool completely before slicing then reheating in the steam as you cook veggies in the broth. As for myself I sliced roughly a third immediately for dinner for 3 and left the rest to slice later for sandwiches etc. Sure enough the later slices are much smoother and perfect for sandwiches and dicing for some corned beef hash but the texture of the first cut meat with potatoes and cabbage was fantastic.

First cut to run it through the slicer

First cut to run it through the slicer

Overall I was blown away by how easy and tasty this was. I can easily see myself doing it on a regular basis now if only for sandwiches and the occasional corned beef hash. I’m also planning on doing a pastrami (essentially the same first step but instead of the boil it gets pepper coated and smoked) come summer. I heartily recommend you try it.

Ready for a tasty sandwich tomorrow

Ready for a tasty sandwich tomorrow

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