Monday, March 23, 2009

Home-Corned Beef

Frequently, we neglect to nurture our culinary heritage. Here in the US, one of our iconic dishes is corned beef and cabbage (although generally believed to be Irish in origin, it is much more common among Irish-Americans, as beef and salt were far to expensive for Irish peasants to afford, see this article). Many of us have it each year on St. Patrick's Day. Quite a few of us even like it (myself included). How many of us actually prepare it from scratch? I never had, until I saw Alton Brown's Good Eats and he enlightened me on how to make really good corned beef. Once you've had homemade, you never want pre-prepared corned beef again!

Tune in on Wednesday and Friday for ways to prepare this home-corned beef. You could also just cook this up the way you would other kinds of beef roasts - braised with aromatic vegetables, slow-roasted, or smoked.

  • 2 quarts (8 cups) water
  • 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup pickling salt)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons saltpeter (although optional, this ingredient adds additional preservation and that lovely red color that we usually associate with corned beef - look for it in pharmacies)
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds ice (which is the same as 4 cups of cold water, if you don't have that much ice around the house)
  • 4-5 pound beef brisket, trimmed
Note: You can often find whole spices (such as allspice and juniper berries) at health food stores or organic grocery stores.


In a large pot, bring everything but the ice to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and add the ice (if you pour it out of the hot pot, it will chill faster). When the brine has reached cool room temperature and all ice is melted, seal the brisket and brine in a 2 gallon zip-top bag and place in a large leak-proof container or a large plastic tub (make sure you use a wide tub, you don't want the meat crammed or folded up). Brine in the fridge for 10 days. Rinse off the brine and prepare as you would a pot roast, or check back on Wednesday for corned beef and cabbage.

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