Home-Cured Corned Beef for Cook the Books Club

It was that time again - to break out the green, the shillelagh and of course, your own fabulous home-cured corned beef.  However, I decided to head this up with a picture of me in Ireland (a number of years ago), a tad prettier view than pics of a slab of beef brisket in brine. This recipe fits in well with our latest Cook the Books Club selection, The Unprejudiced Palate, or as Alice Waters dubbed it, the Prejudiced Palate, by Angelo Pellegrini. 

 Pellegrini was certainly sure of what he believed, though he crossed over the line a number of times, and especially in his encounter with M.F.K. Fisher in a final addendum.  Yes, there is a tremendous amount of waste in this country; yes, many people are dependent upon fast foods, more so now than when this book was written, and yes there is too much reliance on prepared foods, canned, frozen or boxed. 

 Also, he mentions parts of meat usually neglected by home cooks, though I have to say, that may now be for good reason - you cannot find those parts in most grocery stores any more.  Until recently a whole chicken came with the giblets and neck enclosed, which practice seems to have stopped. Unless you butcher the animal yourself, it is not likely you will be able to cook kidneys, heart, tongue, brains etc.  In fact, I was going to make his veal suggestion from page 203-4, but was unable to find even veal in the market here.  Despite the fact that Hawaii Island has one of the biggest cattle ranches in the U.S.

The memoir sections, from his young life in Italy and early years in America were very moving, especially the evocative cultural and economic contrasts.  I had no idea of the extreme poverty in rural Italy at that time.   He was so overwhelmed by the contrast in America, that I think it just broke his heart to see waste and carelessness with the precious gifts of abundance here.

As a winemaker myself, though not grape, unfortunately, I enjoyed his thoughts on that subject also.  Much of the remainder seemed a bit obvious, perhaps due to when it was written, or preaching to the saved, in the case of our group of bloggers anyway, and I found myself skipping sections.  Always addressing or referring to "housewives" in the book was annoying, though another sign of that era, I'm sure.

Corning your beef brisket from scratch would be right up his frugal little alley.  Using an inexpensive (supposedly) cut of meat, slow cooking after a long soak in spiced brine, is not at all difficult, just requires a bit of planning ahead.  5 days to be exact.  You throw all the spices and salt together with water and add your meat, easy.  Leave it to cure and then cook.

Most recipes call for a larger cut of brisket, but all our market had was 1.5 lb packages, however there's only 2 of us, so I went with that, just cutting down everything else by quite a bit.  Also there was room for it in the fridge!  Always good.  Last year I had to use the fridge at our office.

 I will give the recipe, adapted from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's excellent book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing

First you put the brine together:

For 8 to 10 servings
1-1/2 cups kosher salt (unless you are using Morton's Tender Quick)
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons pink salt (sodium nitrite), optional - (in our town, none was available, just Morton's Tender Quick, so I used that, eliminating the sugar and salt, as it's in there already.) **See note #2 below
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons pickling spice (to throw together your own, see * note #1 below)

1 5-pound beef brisket
4 cloves sliced garlic
3-4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in two
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish

In pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with kosher salt, sugar, pink salt (if using), 2 cloves of the 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, and remaining 2 cloves sliced garlic. 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.  I added the carrot, onion, and celery about 1 hour before finish and 2 cloves garlic and cabbage 30 minutes before finish.

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.  There wasn't a whole lot of meat, but enough for the two of us with some left-overs.  If we have the kids over next time, I'll do as one cook mentioned - brine in the crisper drawer of the fridge :)

 The flavors were outstanding, a perfectly scrumptious meal, which I served with the vegetables, steamed potatoes, and Maestro Pellegrini would be happy to approve, a lovely glass of red, Beaujolais-Villages 2011.  Traditionally should have been a glass of Guinness, but it's not a favorite of mine.  Check out everyone's contributions and reviews at the round-up for Cook the Books Club.  Also sharing with the folks at Beth Fish Reads, for her Weekend Cooking meme.

Notes #1

If you decide to put your own together, very simple by the way, here is the full amount:
Pickling Spice
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.

Note #2:
Regarding that pink salt, in the list of ingredients, here's some info courtesy of Steve, over at Barbecue! Bible:
Don’t nitrates/nitrites cause cancer? Isn’t that why people buy anemic-looking uncured bacon and nitrate-free hot dogs the color of the cardboard boxes they’re shipped in? You may remember the controversy that flared in the mid-1970s over nitrates/nitrites—but missed the news that curing salts were effectively cleared of the charges. In fact, the National Toxicology Program, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, conducted a multi-year study to evaluate the safety of sodium nitrite. The conclusion? When used at FDA-approved levels, nitrite is not only safe, but may help counter heart attacks, vascular problems, and sickle cell disease.
Still skeptical? According to the American Meat Institute, roughly 93 percent of our daily intake of nitrites (the chemical cousin of nitrates) comes from leafy vegetables and tubers. The maximum amount of nitrites allowed in cured meats by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is 156 parts per million (ppm), and is usually lower than that. In contrast, spinach, lettuce, celery, beets, radishes, and carrots can contain up to 1900 ppm! As far as I know, no one’s sounding the alarm on these vegetables.
And those uncured hot dogs or bacon you’ve been conscientiously paying more for? Most are processed using celery or beet juice, whose nitrates turn into nitrites when they react with the saliva in your mouth. In many cases, they potentially contain more nitrites than traditionally cured meats


Camilla M. Mann said...

Claudia, you have me chuckling! "...right up his frugal little alley." Too funny! Yes, he is polarizing, isn't he?!

jama said...

Enjoyed hearing about the book and your brining and curing adventure. Also appreciate the info about nitrites/nitrates. I feel better about eating some cured meats now. :) Your corned beef dinner looks soooooo yummy. I imagine the homemade version is so much better.

Carole said...

You have inspired me to put this on my to do list. It's bound to be better than the corned beef you buy. Cheers from CArole's Chatter

Molly said...

I'm not really a corned beef lover, but I bet your version is much better than the store prepared variety I have had in the past.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Great post! I think many of us had similar feelings about Pellegrini and some of his opinions. I think good corned beef is one of the meats I miss the most since I stopped eating it. Your homemade version looks delicious--you have me drooling. ;-)

Beth F said...

I've been wanting to read that Pellegrini book, but now I know he'd probably make me mad! I love brisket but haven't ever corned one myself. Looks easy enough and I so happy the results came out great. Weird that veal wasn't in your grocery store .. I'm going to have to look today. I usually buy my veal in the summer at the farmers market, so I'm not sure if I buy it in the grocery.

Tina said...

I never made a brine for corned beef before, I have always cooked brisket slowly with a few spices. One day I will try this. My husband doesn't like heavier beef meals when it gets so hot here so this will be on hold until October :-)

Simona Carini said...

Pellegrini's Tuscany is certainly not the same place in people's mind nowadays. Not all the Italian immigrants to America came from Sicily or southern Italy. I agree that your home-cured corned beef is up Pellegrini's alley. Making something the requires time feels hard to fit into our schedules, but flavors take time to develop. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books.

Amy said...

Great recipe! The constant reference to "housewives" had me gritting my teeth, too!

Alicia Foodycat said...

I know some people who were children of the Depression came out of it determined that they would never eat "poor" food again - one friend's grandmother used to refuse to eat lamb shanks (SO delicious) because it was a reminder of having to beg the butcher for cheap pieces of meat. I guess if Pellegrini arrived in a time of plenty when people were able to be more profligate he might not have realised just how many Americans did feel the same way he did or had grown up with not a whole lot more than he had.

Your corned beef looks great. It's good to know it works with a nice small piece - I've done bigger joints and then I can't resist it and eat far more than I should!

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I think that Pellegrini would definitely approve of your corning your own brisket. I have brined a lot foods but have never tried making my own corned beef. I am putting that on my list. Thanks Claudia.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I loved this book except for certain chapters, and enjoyed the idea of cooking from the garden.