Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Corned Beef from Scratch Part 1: Brining

St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner.  The last few years we have provided a little sanctuary for our friends ho wish to make merry and drink in peace without dealing with the chaos that is amateur night.  Every year we serve the traditional (though not necessarily truly Irish) corned beef brisket with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, etc, etc.  How better to up the ante than by brining your own?

The task is far simpler than I imagined.  Hands-on, I spent maybe ten minutes assembling the brine and submerging the meat....once I actually had everything, that is (note to self, ensure I have enough salt PRIOR to starting the process...).  For the next 8-10 days let the brine do the work for you.

Included in this brine is an ingredient known as Instra-cure.  Some brines call for saltpeter.  These are sodium nitrite compounds.  Yes, nitrite as in that big scary preservative most of our deli meats are chalked full of.  The beef can be corned without the nitrites, for those trying to keep their food as preservative-free as possible.  From what I've gleaned, omitting the Instra-cure or saltpeter will not alter the taste, but the corned beef will not be the traditional rosy color many come to expect from the brisket.

For the pickling spices I opted to use Penzeys Spices Corned Beef Spice Blend, but many pickling blends will do in a pinch.  Alton Brown has a lovely blend including mustard seeds, juniper berries, bay leaves, cinnamon, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and ginger.  I'm taking this one step at a time.  Maybe next year I'll try making my own spice blend...

adapted from Bon Apetit March 2008

yields enough brine for one 6-8 pound brisket

The Ingredients:

6 cups water
2 cups lager beer
1 1/2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Insta Cure no. 1 or saltpeter (optional)
1/4 cup pickling spices
1 6- to 8-pound flat-cut beef brisket, trimmed, with some fat remaining
The Process: 

In a large bowl combine 6 cups water and beer. Add the salt and sugar; stir until completely dissolved. If desired, stir in Insta Cure No. 1.  Mix in pickling spices. 
Pierce brisket all over with tip of small sharp knife. Place the brisket in a non-reactive roasting pan or large oven bag.  Pour the brine over the brisket, covering completely.  If using an oven bag, squeeze out as much air as possible and tie securely.  Top with heavy platter to weigh down. Cover and refrigerate 4 days.

After four days, remove brisket from brine. Stir liquid to blend and redistribute spices. Return brisket to brine; submerging completely.  Top with heavy platter to keep submerged. Cover and refrigerate an additional four days. Remove brisket from brine. Rinse with cold running water.
 If not using immediately, wrap corned beef in plastic, cover with foil, and refrigerate. for up to 2 days.

The Review:
Pending til Paddy's Day.  Happy Brining!

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