I once saw a segment on the Martha Stewart show where she had a guest on and they were making pastrami sandwiches. In her typical, incredulous, Martha-tone, she said, “Doesn’t everyone corn their own beef?!” I balked. I would have asked, “Does anyone make their own corned beef?!” Making my own corned beef seemed not only like a giant waste of time, but I don’t even crave the stuff, so why would I want to let a gigantic stock pot filled with a brisket sit in my fridge for a week when I could go buy a nice, pre-packaged Hormel version for $4?
Because I’m married to Matt Palmer. He is extraordinary. He always sees the potential in a long process. He has endless patience. He can set out with the process in mind, not the finished product. He enjoys learning how to do something from scratch, whether it be something widely appealing like home cured bacon, or as unappealing and death-smelling as pickled diakon, which sat on top of my computer for a week, fermenting (but hey, it made an interesting dip!) The point, for him, is always the learning process. I have learned so much in the last 9 years of knowing him and 8 years living with him. He’s never once lost his patience and thrown something against the sink to watch it explode because it didn’t work out right (ahem), and even spent one Sunday afternoon making homemade mayonnaise 5 times in a row for 2 hours because the emulsion kept breaking (I remember crying that day.) Needless to say, he’s greatly influenced where I am now and how cooking has become therapeutic for me. He is the reason I keep trying to do things better, for better’s sake.
So when he got me involved in his latest corned beef endeavor, I was less reluctant. He got it in the brine, and I finished it on the stove a week later when it was ready. It makes a TON, so I will be slicing it and freezing it really soon. But the other day, I sliced some thin strips, heated them up in a skillet (unnecessary, because it’s cooked, but appealing because it sizzles) and made a corned beef sandwich on rye with store-bought sauerkraut that was fermented in someone ELSE’S place of business instead of my garage, thankyouverymuch.
The results were good. I’ve taken the corned beef recipe directly from Michael Ruhlman’s blog, because that’s who we look to when it comes to charcuterie recipes and we didn’t deviate from the recipe a bit. For the sandwich, I just toasted some rye bread, spread mayo and dijon mustard on each side, topped it with sliced cornichons and sauerkraut and melted some swiss cheese on top of the beef.
Home-Cured Corned Beef
1-1/2 cups kosher salt*
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pickling spice
1 5-pound beef brisket
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in two
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped.
In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.
Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.
Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice, carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket.
Keep warm until ready to serve. Meat can be refrigerated for several days in cooking liquid. Reheat in the liquid or serve chilled. Slice thinly and serve on a sandwich or with additional vegetables simmered until tender in the cooking liquid.
*A note about the salt. Salt level not hugely critical here because it’s basically boiled and excess salt moves into cooking liquid. You can weigh out 12 ounces here if you feel better using a scale (approximately a 10% brine). Or you can simply make a 5% brine of however much water you need to cover (6.4 ounces per gallon). When you cook it, season the cooking liquid to the level you want your meat seasoned. Another option is wrapping the brisket in foil and cooking it in a 225 degree oven till tender, but only do this if you’ve used the 5% brine.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
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.
Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a small dry pan. Place over medium heat and stir until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; keep lid handy in case seeds pop. Crack peppercorns and seeds in mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on cutting board.
Combine with other spices, mix. Store in tightly sealed plastic or glass container.