Sunday, March 20, 2016

Corned Beef

My mom used to love St. Patrick's Day because it was an excuse for her to make corned beef and cabbage.  None of us liked it, but we had to suffer through it every year.  After I grew up and moved out, it was many years before I would even eat corned beef.

Then we made it in culinary school from scratch.  Like growing your own veggies, doing a big project like this makes you appreciate the process and the product.  While corned beef was still not my first choice, it was no longer something to avoid.

I went through several recipes before deciding that Alton Brown's had the easiest math for the size of the brisket I had bought.  The main substitution, and what I'm posting here, is using Prague Powder #1 instead of saltpeter.  Either will give the brisket that pink color, but plain pickling salt won't.  Even in L.A., I had to order it online after going to a whole lot of specialty markets.  One pound is a lifetime supply, enough to cure over 200 pounds of meat.  It's a bit nerve-wracking to receive a food product that is clearly labeled "toxic, use only as recipe directs", but technically nutmeg and rhubarb leaves also fall in the toxic category.

And yes, this is a horrendous list of ingredients that you may never use again.  I hit the spice bins at Sprouts for the odd things like Allspice and Juniper berries, plus one-offs for other recipes I had planned.  Since I got so little of each spice, she just weighed all the bags at once and I paid something like 50¢ for all of them.

Just a heads up on timing.  You need about a two-week lead time for this.  4-5 days for the Prague Powder to arrive (unless you have Prime) and a minimum of 7 days brining.  I did 7 days and there was one tiny half-bite in the middle that didn't cure.  12 more hours would have been enough.  Don't look at this recipe today and expect to have everything done tomorrow.  The actual process is beyond easy, but you have up to 10 days of inactive time.

2 quarts (8 cups) water
1 C kosher salt (2/3 if you want lower sodium)
1/2 C brown sugar
1 tsp Prague Powder #1
*1 cinnamon stick, broken (optional)
*1 tsp mustard seeds
*1 tsp whole black peppercorns
*8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice
12 whole juniper berries
*2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 pounds ice
1 4 to 5 lb brisket, trimmed to 1/4" fat or less
2 C mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery trimmings)

1.  In a large stockpot, place water and next 11 ingredients (down to the ginger).  Bring everything to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for at least three minutes, to make sure all the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Add ice and stir to dissolve.  If brine is not yet cooled to at least 45º, place in refrigerator.

2.  Get out a casserole dish at least 2" deep.  Place brisket in a 2-gallon plastic bag in the casserole.  Add brine to fill the bag and squeeze out as much air as possible.  The brine should cover all sides of the meat.  Lay flat in the casserole and refrigerate.  Turn daily and squeeze bag to distribute brine evenly.

3.  After 10 days (minimum of 7 if you're in a rush), remove brisket from the bag and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it.  Add the mirepoix and add water to cover by 1".  Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until meat is fork tender.  Remove meat from the water and discard the mirepoix.  Slice cooled brisket thinly across the grain and serve hot or cold.

Makes about 50% to 60% of original brisket weight

Difficulty rating  :)

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