Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luck O' The Brine

Tomorrow everyone will be Irish, and everyone will request a kiss for this fact. You can use this holiday as an excuse to fill up on whiskey, stout and green beer. But, if you were like me, you would look forward to March 17th as the one day a year when you get homemade corned beef. Just like turkey on Thanksgiving, this was the only day out of the whole year we got to eat scary pink beef. And it was delicious.
I love the way corned beef shreds off of a fork, and the dry little bits get soft so quickly when doused with its cooking liquid. Even though I typically hated steaks and beef as a child, corned beef never seemed like the same thing. It was wonderful. Since then, I still look forward to corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day although this year we had it a few days before, so I could share with you.

I can’t remember exactly when the first time I made it was, but I think it was for the bar I worked at just after college. The owner typically offered corned beef wrapped in cabbage rolls for this heavily trafficked bar day. But I was aghast at this – wrapped in cabbage leaves is NOT how I ate it. I’m sure you can do it this way, but my limited knowledge of Irish food traditions does not agree.
I offered to take the corned beef home and cook it for her to sell on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course I don’t know how the health department would feel about such an offer, but she took it quickly. That first year, I made two 5-7 pound briskets for lunch. When we offered the corned beef to regulars, they politely turned it down. Until, that is, they heard that I had made it. Then they politely accepted. But it was when someone asked for a second order that I knew it was good.
I will try not to brag here (It’ll be hard, but I’ll try), that corned beef was good. The next year I offered to do the same thing, cook the corned beef the night before and then sell it at the bar. However, that year, the assistant manager didn’t trust me. He made his own corned beef, and we competed against one another over orders. I won. I’m not saying that my version is so fantastic, but it’s pretty darn good. I treat it like a sauerbraten, so that there is more flavor in the braising liquid. I also think that cooking it for an extremely long time is best. There, those are the secrets – sauerbraten and time. I think those might just be the secrets to the meaning of life, but I’ll get back to you on that one.

This year, I wanted to try and corn the beef myself. Not that I have anything against the pre-corned beef in the grocery store. Like I said, the scary pink is one of the pros for me when it comes to corned beef. But I thought, why not, let’s get corny. (I couldn’t help myself there, I apologize.) In looking at various cookbooks – all of them recommend buying pre-corned beef. So I went to the web, and discovered that a week to 10 days is preferable in corning beef. I had given myself 2 ½ days. Once again, I turned to sauerbraten to solve my dilemma.
The results were pretty good, and I know that tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, so asking you to corn your own beef is a bit cruel. So I will share that part of the recipe as well as what to do to cook a store bought corned beef. So buy some Irish stout, or get some food coloring and a cheap beer and toast to all things Irish!


Homemade Corned Beef
The brine makes more than you will need, simply scoop out and use as many of the spices as you can. And use whatever liquid you need.

For the Brine
1 2-4 pound beef brisket
2 quarts water
1 cup salt (preferably Kosher)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 all spice berries
8 juniper berries
1 tsp. mustard seeds
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
10 black peppercorns
¼ cup white wine vinegar

For the Corned Beef
2 large carrots, cut in 1” pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 medium celery stalks, cut in 1” pieces
1small head of cabbage, cut into 1/8’s
2 cups brining liquid (spices strained out)
1 cup beef stock (plus more if needed)
Pre-brined beef
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. mustard seeds
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
2 all spice berries
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
4 black peppercorns
Salt to taste

For the brine – combine all the ingredients for the brine together in a large pot and bring just to a boil. Be sure salt and brown sugar have dissolved completely. Cool as quickly as you can (I like to stick the pot outside to cool it off), you can add about a tray’s worth of ice to help.

Once cool, place beef into a re-sealable bag, or into a doubled up roasting bag. Pour brine over the meat, and be sure the meat is completely covered. Place bag into a bowl or pot (in case of leakage) and place in the refrigerator for 2-3 days (more if you have planned ahead).

To cook the corned beef – place all the vegetables, half of the cabbage and the spices into a crock pot or Dutch oven. Carefully remove the beef from the brine and add to the pot. Add brining liquid and beef stock so that the vegetables and most of the beef. Stir to mix the spices throughout. To cook in a crockpot, set to medium high, and let cook for 10+ hours. 2 hours before serving, turn the heat down to low. An hour before serving, add the remaining cabbage.

To cook the corned beef in a dutch oven, set your oven to 300°. Place dutch oven, with the lid on in the middle of the oven for 6+ hours. I prefer to do this over-night if a) you are comfortable sleeping while your oven is on and b) you plan on eating the corned beef for lunch. Again, add the remaining cabbage about an hour prior to serving, and turn the oven down to 250°.

Serve with potatoes of some kind.

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