Monday, March 19, 2012

Corned Beef from Scratch Part 2: Cooking

The time has come!  The beef brisket has been taking up an awful amount of real estate in our fridge for the last ten days.  Every time we opened the refrigerator door we were struck with the reminder of how incredibly amazing our St Patrick's Day dinner was going to be...or filled with the foreboding of a possible failure.  
Because we were expecting a slightly larger turn out of guests, and because our own curiosity nudged us to compare, we did purchase a small 3lb pre-brined brisket from the store...

just in case...

Serves 8 to 10
The Ingredients:
1 12-ounce bottle Guinness or other stout or porter
4-8 cups water
4 bay leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns 
2-3 whole allspice
1 dried chile de √°rbol, broken in half

3 medium turnips or rutabagas, peeled
8 unpeeled medium red-skinned potatoes
6 medium carrots, peeled
4 medium onions, peeled
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 2-pound head of cabbage

The Process: 

Remove the corned beef from the brine.  Rinse thoroughly in cold water and pat dry.  Place corned beef in very large wide pot. I had to use Ross' 5 gallon stainless-steel brewing pot to accommodate our cut of meat.  Add the stout and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bundle the bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice, and chile in a 6" x 6" square of cheesecloth, enclosing completely.  Tie the spice bundle with kitchen string to secure and toss it in the pot with the beef.   Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 1/4 hours. 

While the brisket simmers prepare the vegetables: Quarter the turnips and cabbage.  Half the potatoes and onions.  Cut the carrots and parsnips into 2 to 3 inch lengths.

After the 2 1/4 hours, transfer beef to large baking sheet or roasting pan.  Cover a keep warm in oven, preheated to 200.

Add the vegetables to the liquid in the pot and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently until all vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes, longer if mushy vegetables are desired. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a serving dish. Return beef to pot and rewarm and re-hydrate, about 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.

Remove the beef to a butcher block or cutting board and slice against grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange beef with the vegetables on the serving platter.

The Review:
The decision was unanimous...the store bought brisket didn't stand a chance against the one we brined ourselves.  
As I rinsed our attentively cared for cut of meat, I was treated to the wonderful aroma of pickling spices.  The smell of corned beef permeated our kitchen (quite the feat considering how the stale gym sock stench of matter how tasty...can quickly overpower any other smells).  The meat was a beautiful pink going into the pot.  And when sliced, that traditional glorious red color greeted us.

The meat was so much more flavorful than any other corned beef brisket I'd every tried...though very, very salty.  Even compared to the store bought brisket.  I would be hesitant to reduce the amount of salt or curing powder to the brining process least until I poked around a little more into sausage maker, curing, brining and other meat preservation techniques.  No additional salt had been added beyond what originally went into the brine 10 days ago.

Our brisket was also a slightly less fatty cut than you typically find at the grocery store.  While it was incredibly moist when first cut, the slices that were not devoured immediately dried out pretty quickly.  Unless you know your brisket is a particularly fatty cut, I would highly recommend slicing of portions only as needed to retain as much moisture in the meat as possible.
The veggies were a supporting role in this endeavor.  Tasty and greatly enhanced by the amazing cooking liquid the brisket created...but by themselves they weren't much to write home about.  The parsnips and turnips did add a nice bit of variety to the standard carrots and cabbage.  That being said...there wasn't much left of this batch of food...

I will never go back to store bought briskets again.  This dinner was more than worth the ten day wait.

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