Corned beef is a wonderful thing to make at home, in my opinion. It makes nice sandwich meat and a mean boiled dinner. I’ve learned how to make corned beef from Charcuterie – a wonderful book on home salting, smoking, and curing which also gave me the recipe for the out-of-this-world venison pastrami (via my mother-in-law).
Corned beef is easy to make! All you need to do is brine a nice-sized brisket or other comparable cut with lots of connective tissue (which melts into mouth-watering goodness) for five days, and then boil it slowly on a stove. It’s especially good straight out of the pot. I’ve been using it to make simple sandwiches with mustard and sauerkraut, though you can also go all the way and make yourself a Reuben.
Because the corned beef recipe I used is already available online at Michael Ruhlman‘s website (who is one of the authors of Charcuterie), I will not be re-posting it here, but rather just show you the pictures I took of the brining process.
Note 1: For some reason I couldn’t find the pictures of the actual corned beef I made, but, luckily, they are already available on the said website, and mine looked just like it.
Note 2: Note that I cut the recommended amount of kosher salt by 1/3 (I didn’t alter the curing salt proportions), because I thought the book’s version, based on my mother’s-in-law experience with pastrami, would be a bit too salty. That was a good move – mine tasted perfect.
You’re gonna need a tougher piece of meat with plenty of connective tissue. I used a sirloin tip roast, because that’s what I had, and it was quite perfect, but, traditionally, this method is used to transform the otherwise tough brisket.
Next, you’re gonna need some of the so-called pink salt – or sodium nitrate – a special curing salt that acts as a preservative and is responsible for the pink color of cured meats. Note that this is highly toxic, which is the reason it is dyed this color, lest, God forbid, you confuse it with your regular salt. Be sure to keep this very, very, very far away from children. The pink salt can be purchased at butcher shops or online, but if you don’t have a friendly neighborhood butcher shop or don’t like to pay the shipping (and I don’t blame you), you can substitute Morton Tenderquick (below), which is available at Walmart and most other ordinary supermarkets (though probably not your gourmet food cooperative). I’ve not used it myself, but my friend substituted it 1-to-1 when she made the aforementioned pastrami with the deer her husband shot this year.
Next, you gonna need a scale. This is important! Different pink salts will have different volume-to-weight ratio, so be sure to always weigh your pink salt. This is also why salt measurements are specified in weight, not volume. This fabulous scale came from Walmart, and I loved every moment I’ve had with it! I use it to weigh flour when making puff pastry, our grassfed beef when I sell it to the customers, and I just plain can’t live without it!
Be sure to wipe your scale nicely after you’re done, or use a plastic bowl or something b/w the salt and scale.
Next, the brine calls for kosher salt (I use Morton) and sugar, as well as pickling spice. You can buy the latter ready-made, or make your own. I made my own in this case. I didn’t follow any particular proportions, either – I just went by eye. If you feel like you can’t live without exact proportions, however, the pickling spice recipe is available with Michael’s recipe below.
But really, all I used was:
- some crushed red pepper flakes
- some mustard seed
- some bay leaf
- some ground cinnamon
- some ground coriander
- some cloves
- some peppercorns
The results, in the case of both corned beef and pastrami, were simply superb.
Then you basically just put everything in with a specified amount of water, bring it all to a boil, and boil, stirring, until all sugar and salt have dissolved (same way you make hummingbird food). Then you let your brine cool down and chill it in the fridge. You’d want it to be chilled before you pour it over the meat so it doesn’t cook the meat.
Get yourself a nice, large, pot, place the meat in it, and pour the brine over it. The brine must cover the meat.
Next, you gonna have to weigh your meat down in some way, otherwise it’ll float to the top and not brine properly. I use this nice casserole lid. It works perfectly.
Then all you do is stick it in the fridge for five days, after which you take it out of the brine, rinse it, cover it with water, add some more pickling spice, and simmer it for three hours or until fork-tender and falling apart. And then it looks like this (actually mine looked a tad pinker).