Making your own corned beef is especially satisfying because it’s so easy—and so inexpensive compared to commercial corned beef. It’s also a pleasure to have a hand in what is an extraordinary transformation of a cheap cut of meat. We love simple braised brisket, like the Belgian stew carbonnade, cooked slowly in beer and onions, but to cause the metamorphosis from brisket to delicious corned beef is a different pleasure altogether. Corned beef becomes firmer. It takes on the delicious cured flavor. And, while it’s excellent for sandwiches, it can make an elegant main course for a full meal, served with, say, sautéed blanched cabbage or Brussels sprouts with a mustard vinaigrette and boiled potatoes.
Then there’s corned beef and cabbage, which is one my favorite preparations because it takes what ought to be a kind of one-pot stew collection of cheap ingredients—cured brisket, cabbage, and potatoes—and with just a little bit of effort turns them into a beautiful, distinctive meal.
Cabbage and bacon are a great combo, so I love to render some lardons (batons of cured pork belly or bacon) and sear the cabbage in bacon fat. (Is there a better phrase in the kitchen than “sear in bacon fat”? I can’t think of one.) This flavors the cabbage and gives the edges of the leaves a cool crinkled design of brown and bright green. I then add some of the poaching liquid from the corned beef (step 6) to the pot and cover it so that the cabbage steams and becomes tender. (Sometimes I even slow roast the corned beef ahead of time, wrapping the corned beef in foil with a little water and cook it at 250°F till it’s tender.) I like to cook the potatoes separately because they look better and brighter, but if you want to cut down on pots you could add sliced potatoes to the cabbage. For a quick meal, you can add the already cooked corned beef with potatoes to the cabbage, cover the pot, and steam it all together. The liquid that steams the cabbage then becomes a delicious sauce when you stir in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
There’s no single best way to cook these common foods. For me the fun is in taking ingredients we thing of as pedestrian and making them great.–Michael Ruhlman
LC Pickled Beef Note
Pickled beef. That’s essentially what corned beef is. Any questions?
Homemade Corned Beef Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 5 D, 3 H
- Makes 4 1/2 pounds, 8 to 10 servings
- For the pickling spice
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons hot red-pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon ground mace
- 2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
- 2 to 4 bay leaves, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- For the brine
- 1 gallon water
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 ounce (5 teaspoons) pink salt (see Note)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 tablespoons pickling spice (above recipe or store-bought)
- One 5-pound well-marbled (first-cut) beef brisket
- Make the pickling spice
- 1. Lightly toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet, then smash them with the side of a knife just to crack them.
- 2. Combine the cracked spices with the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container or glass jar.
- Make the brine
- 3. Combine the water, salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the pickling spices in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the brine until it’s completely chilled.
- 4. Place the brisket in the brine and weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.
- 5. Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. (Resting is not required here because the distribution of the brine will continue in the long, slow cooking process.)
- Cook the corned beef
- 6. Place the brisket in a pot just large enough to hold it and add enough water to cover the meat. Add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 3 hours, or until the brisket is fork-tender. There should always be enough water to cover the brisket; replenish the water if it gets too low.
- 7. Remove the corned beef from the cooking liquid, which can be used to moisten the meat and vegetables, if that is what you’re serving (see headnote). Slice the corned beef and serve warm, or cool, then wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve, or for up to a week.
- Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the corned beef’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.
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Homemade Corned Beef Recipe © 2005 Michael Ruhlman | Brian Polcyn . Photo © 2005 Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved.