Monday, March 12, 2012

Old English in the Modern Age - Corning Your Own Beef

I figured since St. Patty's day was fairly close, being Saturday, that I would share my recipe for, what has become, the quintessential food of all American St. Patrick's Day celebrations.... Corned Beef.

So WHY is it called "corned" beef when it contains no corn?  Well it seems that, back in the day, salt didn't exist in the refined form we know today as "Table salt".  It was much more of a rough product back in the days of yore. The particular unrefined salt used for brining (corning) came in chunks about the size of a corn.  I don't mean the size of Corn corn, I am referring to the size of a "Barley Corn".  Is this confusing yet?  :)  You see, the old English word for any type of hard particle or grain seed was "Corn" in much the same way we use the blanket term "Grain" now days.  Think of grains of wheat and grains of sand as being wheat corns, corns of sand or, in this case, corns of salt.

Maize from America was originally named "Indian Corn" but this was eventually shortened to "Corn" as Old English became Modern English, and terms like Barley corn, Wheat corn and Rye corn sort of fell to the wayside.  Unless you are singing about John Barleycorn while consuming large quantities of beer.  But that is another post.

We don't purchase our salt "chunky style" these days, but good old Kosher Salt will work just fine. It's OK, you can still refer to the process as "Corning beef" and the end product as "Corned Beef".  I don't think the Old English police will arrest you for using the wrong salt.

The secret to good home corning of beef is to make sure that 1) your brine is really cold, and 2) making sure you "Swiss" the brisket really well with a meat fork or one of those tenderizer gadgets with the rows of little blades or pins so the brisket has more surface area to make contact with the brine.

With those two things in mind, Corning Beef is really very simple.  True, the ingredient list is fairly long, due to the spices, but the process of making the brine is very easy.  The hardest part is waiting 5-10 days before steaming/boiling it up and consuming it.  I prefer to wait the full 10 days, but I am getting a late start this year... So I am only going to get 6 days in before it must be cooked. Once you have corned your beef (at 10 days), you can continue to store it in the refrigerator in the zipper bag for up to 1 week, but no longer than that.

The reason for this is that this particular recipe lacks Potassium Nitrate (Niter, Salt Peter, Pink Salt).  I do not feel comfortable adding potentially cancer causing chemicals to my food, so it will not keep as long as one you buy from the store.  I am OK with that, since I plan on eating it immediately (and I usually do) after the curing is completed.  If you want your corned beef to last longer, go ahead and add about 1 1/2 - 2 TB Pink Salt (Potassium Nitrate) to the brine.  Your brisket will be "pinker" than mine and will last a little longer in the brine.

Corned Beef

2 quarts (1.9 liters) Water
1 cup (170g)(6 oz) Kosher Salt
1/2 cup (115g)(4.1oz) Dark Brown Sugar
1 TB Black Peppercorns (See, we still call them "corns")
2 tsp Mustard Seed
2 tsp Coriander Seed
1 tsp Red Pepper Flake
1 Cinnamon Stick, broken
10 All-Spice Berries
8 Juniper Berries
8 Clove Buds
2 -3 Bay leaves (I used three cause mine were pretty small)
1/2 tsp ground Ginger
3 cloves Garlic
2 lbs (910g) Ice (1 quart of water, frozen into ice cubes)
1 sprig of Thyme
5 lbs of Beef Brisket (I chose a point cut instead of the flat end)
1-2 gallon zipper bag
 A large stainless bowl, to prevent leaks in the refrigerator

Combine Water, Salt and Sugar in a large saucepan.

Bring to a simmer and add Peppercorns, Mustard seed, Coriander seed, Pepper Flake, Cinnamon, All-Spice, Juniper, Clove, Bay and Ginger.

Bring back to a simmer, then add the Garlic cloves.

Simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

While the brine is simmering, fill a large pot with the Ice.

When the brine has finished simmering, move from the stove top and pour the brine over the ice.

Stir until the ice melts and cools the brine to about room temperature.

Place in the refrigerator or freezer for at least 1 hour. (You need the Brine to be at 40 F (4 C) degrees)
When the brine is completely chilled, remove the Brisket from the refrigerator and stab it all over with a meat fork to allow the brine to penetrate.

Place the slab o' meat in a 2 gallon zipper bag.

Place the Zipper bag in a stainless steel bowl.

Pour the cold brine over the meat and add the sprig of Thyme.

Close the bag, removing as much air as possible, and move the whole kit and kaboodle to the refrigerator and let it hang out for at least 5 days, preferably 10.

Agitate the meat and the brine at least once every day to ensure the brine doesn't separate and that the spices don't set on 1 section of the meat through the entire corning process.

And there you have it....  15 minutes of work combined with lots and lots of waiting.....

See, I told you it was pretty easy.

Mangia!! (in 5-10 days)

1 comment:

Patti T. said...

I remember my BIL making his own corned beef. There aren't any ingredients in this recipe that I don't like so I should give this a try sometime. A little late now for this year, sigh. Guess I will just have some of yours. After all it is St. Patti's Day.