Corned Beef Step-by-Step Tutorial

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Corned beef is one of those foods that has gotten marginalized due to its association with Saint Patrick’s Day. For many people, the only time they eat corned beef is in March. And that is a shame, as corned beef is a truly great meat, in my opinion. Of course, if you live in a city with a really good Jewish Deli, such as Katz’s in New York or Langer’s in Los Angeles, then you can get an excellent corned beef sandwich year round.

But I am referring to making corned beef at home, which is near impossible because supermarkets only bring out the packaged corned beef right before Saint Patrick’s Day in March. What to do? Follow this Step-by-Step Corned Beef Tutorial and you can make it anytime you want.

I first made my own corned beef five years ago, and have been doing it ever since. It is such a simple process, although it takes time. Most of that time is just waiting for the meat to cure, so it is painless. Unless you are an impatient person.

Corned Beef

The photo above is of my first corned beef I ever made. It was so delicious and so unlike the packaged corned beef I had always made. For one thing, I didn’t trim the fat, which gave the corned beef and cooking broth much more flavor. Once your broth is cooled overnight you just remove any solidified fat from the surface and throw it away. The flavor remains, and you can cut the fat from the slices before you eat them.

The main component of a good corned beef is a good piece of brisket, usually the first cut. The first cut brisket is the flatter piece. If you are unsure, ask your butcher to get one for you.

The next component is your pickling spice.  This pickling spice recipe is an all purpose pickling spice. Store it in a jar as you would any spice blend, and when you want corned beef or quick pickles, you have a fresh pickling spice on hand.

Pickling Spice
 
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Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Instructions
  1. Mix the spices together and seal in an airtight container to store.

 

The next component is a brine to cure your corned beef. The brisket needs to stay submerged in the brine for a minimum of one week to let the meat cure.

Corned Beef Brine
 
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Serves: 1 corned beef
Ingredients
  • 7-8 cups water (depending on size of brisket)
  • 1 bottle dark ale
  • 1½ cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • ¼ cup pickling spice
  • 1½ tablespoons pink curing salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp Tellicherry peppercorns
Instructions
  1. Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  2. Place your brisket into a large pot.
  3. Pour the brine over the meat.
  4. Be sure the brisket is submerged. If needed place a plate directly onto the brisket to weight it down.
  5. Cover the pot and place into the refrigerator for one week.

 

Once the brisket has been brined and become a corned beef, all that is left is cooking. Remove the brisket from the brine, rinse it well to remove the spices and extra salt. Place your brisket into a large pot, pour in a bottle of ale or stout, the fill the pot with water so it covers the brisket by at least an inch.  Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook the brisket for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender.

If you want to make a traditional boiled dinner, add potatoes, cabbage wedges and carrots to the cooking liquid once the corned beef is done. Slice the corned beef and return it to the pot with the cooked vegetables.

Or you can slice the corned beef for sandwiches, salads, hash or whatever comes to mind.

Homemade Pastrami

In the world of cold cuts, pastrami reigns supreme. It is at turns salty, spicy, good served warm or cold, piled high or low. It is the ultimate sandwich meat. When I joined up with the increasingly impressive group of food folks doing Charcutepalooza, I knew I wanted to tackle pastrami. Last months challenge was brining, so I made a traditional corned beef brisket, which I served on St. Patrick’s Day. But I also brined a piece of brisket with the intention of making pastrami, which is essentially a smoked corned beef. The brisket I bought was huge, so there was more than enough meat for both corned beef and pastrami. I just cut it in half, using the flat or first cut for corned beef and the larger triangle cut for pastrami.

I used the same pickling spice and brine recipes as I used on the corned beef, except I used cumin seed instead of caraway seed in the brine. I ended up brining the meat for a little over a month, although that was not what I intended to do! Stomach flu tends to really mess up your original plans, so I just rolled with it. Because the piece of meat was so large, I knew that the long brining time would be fine. OK, I didn’t know, but whatever. It was fine.

Pickling Spice

2 TB mustard seeds

2 TB whole allspice

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp dried red pepper flakes

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 cinnamon stick

Mix the spices together and seal in an airtight container to store. This is an all purpose pickling spice mix, and can be used for almost any pickle recipe.

Pastrami Brine

7-8 cups water (depending on size of brisket)

1 bottle dark ale

1 1/2 cups kosher salt

1 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 cup pickling spice

1 1/2 TB pink curing salt

1 TB cumin seeds

1 tsp Tellicherry peppercorns

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place your brisket into a large pot or resealable plastic bag, then pour the brine over the meat. Be sure the brisket is submerged, cover or seal, and place into the refrigerator.

Because of the long brining time, I rinsed the brisket and covered it in cold water. I let the meat soak overnight in the refrigerator, to remove some of the saltiness from the meat. As you can see from the picture of the whole brisket, there is a large fatty area that runs through the thicker end of the brisket. I cut through the fat, then trimmed it down so my pastrami would not be so fatty.

To make your pastrami taste like pastrami, and not smoky corned beef you need a dry spice rub. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the meat with the rub. I always like to give it little “massage” to make sure the flavors penetrate. As you can see from the picture below the spices are course ground, not fine. Be sure to use whole spices when making the rub.

Pastrami Dry Spice Rub

3 TB coriander seed
2 TB tellicherry peppercorns
2 tsp mustard seed
8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Place all the ingredients into a small food chopper or processor. Grind the spices until it becomes a very course paste.

I used good hardwood charcoal in the smoker, along with applewood chips for flavor. The pastrami smoked for about 3 1/2 hours, then finished cooking in a 200 degree oven, until the internal temperature of the meat registered 160 degrees. It is very important to let the meat cool and rest overnight for the flavors to fully develop. Of course, my mother could not wait, and demanded I slice her off some of the pastrami as soon as it came out of the oven! I obliged her, and she made a sandwich right then and there. Being a good daughter, I told her it would be even better if she waited, but she was not having it. She said it was delicious as it was, so that was that!

Sometimes mom does know best, because when I sliced some the next day after letting it rest, it indeed was delicious. Best.Pastrami.Ever. In my humble opinion, of course.

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista