So, St. Patty’s Day is coming quick. All of a sudden, you experience a big tinge of traditional cooking fever. ‘Corned beef and cabbage’, your internal idea light bulb reads; now, that’s a good idea, but here’s one better from my New England homeland. Boiled Dinner is traditional where I grew up, and done like we’re gonna do it, it’ll have a leg or two up on just plain ol’ cabbage.
We’ll start this take on a regional specialty with house made corned beef. I realize this post is gonna hit you guys too late for this year’s Green Day, so go buy some corned and some fresh beef; use the former for Monday, and the latter for next week. It’s so good, you’ll have no problem enjoying it twice.
So, corned beef; had an email the other year asking why I bother making my own, when it’s so cheap at the store. The simple answer is that good homemade is far better than dang near anything in the store. And with any great housemade dish, you can put your own signature stamp on it.
So what is ‘corned’ beef anyway? For this use, the term stems from Old English for grain, which included grains of salt. So this corn means curing meat with salt. The great thing about making it at home is that corned beef lends itself to rougher cuts of beef. Brisket is perfect for this, ’cause it’s cheap, flavorful, and readily available these days.
Oh, and for the record; do not limit yourself to beef once you’ve got the hang of it. I’ve corned deer, elk, and moose and they’ve all been fantastic, so keep that in mind next time you poke your nose in the freezer.
House Made Corned Beef
2-3 Pounds Beef Brisket
1 Quart fresh, clean Water
3/4 Cup Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup light brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Pink Salt
1-2 cloves fresh Garlic
NOTE: Sodium Nitrite, AKA curing or pink salt, can often be found in hunting and fishing stores that carry grilling, smoking, barbecue and sausage making supplies, if your grocery doesn’t carry it. If you can’t find it in your town, Butcher & Packer, Leeners, and Amazon all carry it as well. While it’s not needed in this recipe for food safety considerations, it is, for my mind, absolutely necessary, because it imparts a distinct color and taste that you can’t get otherwise.
Alright, here we go.
Prepare pickling spice. (If you don’t have all these goodies in your pantry, shame on you! And yes, it’s OK to buy a jar of pickling spice this time, but don’t let me catch you without them again…)
1 Tablespoon whole Black Peppercorns
1 Tablespoon whole brown Mustard Seed
1 Tablespoon whole Coriander seed
1 Tablespoon whole Allspice Berries
1 teaspoon whole Szechuan Peppercorns
2″ Cinnamon Stick
2 Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon whole Cloves
4-6 Juniper Berries
Break up cinnamon stick, crush juniper berries, crumble bay leaves, then combine all ingredients and blend thoroughly. Set aside.
Prepare a quart of ice cold water; put it in fridge or freezer.
If your brisket has a fat cap, trim that and any obvious external fat prior to Corning.
Mince your garlic.
Add 1 quart fresh water to a stock pot and bring to a rolling boil. Add salt, curing salt, sugar, garlic, and half the pickling spices. Stir until sugar and salts are dissolved.
Remove brine from heat and add 1 quart of ice cold water. Stir to incorporate and cool brine rapidly. Place brine in fridge for at least 3 hours.
Place brisket in a bowl, dish or storage container just large enough to hold it with at least 2″ above the top of the meat. Pour brine over brisket until it’s completely submerged; again, at least 2″ of brine above the meat. If your meat wants to float, weight it with a plate.
Refrigerate for 5 days. You may turn the beef once if you like, but it’s not critical to the process.
When the magic day arrives, pull your beef outta the fridge.
Prepare a soup or stock pot just big enough for the beef and plenty of liquid.
Gather, rinse, peel and rough chop 1 medium sweet onion, 1 carrot, and 1 stalk celery, (Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have leaves on a nice, fresh bunch of celery, use those instead!)
Pull your beef outta the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cold running water.
Toss the beef into your pot and then add clean, fresh water until you’ve got about 2″ over the beef. Toss in the onion, carrot, celery, and all but 1 teaspoon of the pickling spices.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce heat until you’ve achieved a low, steady simmer.
Cover the pot and let the meat simmer for two hours, or until fork tender. If your water level drops, add more to keep the meat covered.
When the beef is fork tender, remove from the pot, and let rest for at least 30 minutes prior to cutting.
Now, for that New England Dinner; I love this stuff, with real brown bread redolent of molasses and plenty of nose stinging horseradish on the side. As mentioned, boiling can take a bit more of the flavors and nutritional value out than we’d like, to I’ve taken to a combined roast and steaming process.
For four people, gather
16 small potatoes, (waxy reds and whites are nice)
2 Sweet Onions
1 head Green Cabbage
2-3 cloves Garlic
NOTE: If there are other nice winter veggies you love, add them! Parsnips, Jicama, Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage, chiles, tomatillos, your imagination is the limit.
Preheat oven to 250° F.
Rinse all produce. Halve potatoes; skin, cut off ends and quarter onions. Remove outer leaves, cut off stalk and quarter cabbage. If you carrots aren’t fresh, peel them and cut into roughly 3″ chunks. Peel and halve garlic.
Arrange veggies in a baking pan, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, lightly salt and pepper. Roast them for twenty minutes, to bring the sugars out a bit and deepen flavors.
Prepare a steamer with at least 2″ of fresh water. Use a pot large enough to fit all veggies plus about half your beef, (or a quarter pound for each person).
When your steamer is producing steam actively, toss in the remaining teaspoon of pickling spices and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add beef and all veggies. Steam until veggies are fork tender, about 15 minutes.
Transfer to a platter and serve hot, with fresh horseradish, brown bread, and a nice local IPA.
And WEAR GREEN on Monday!