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.

Cooking 101: How to Make a Basic Brine

Kosher Salt, Raw Cane Sugar, Peppercorns, Bay Leaf, Fennel Seeds, Thyme and Oregano

Soaking meats or poultry in a brine is a great way to add flavor and juiciness.  Meat loses a lot of  juices while cooking, so when you start by brining your meats or poultry before cooking, you essentially start with more juice.  Therefore when you lose the juices to cooking, you still have more than you would if you did not brine!

That is the simple explanation for why a brine is a good thing, but if you would like a more scientific explanation, try this article from Fine Cooking by noted food scientist Shirley Corriher.

Brining is not an exact science, as the amount of salt you use can vary.  I generally like to use 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water.  From there you can add just about any flavorings you would like. Herbs, spices, fruit zest, fruit juice, sugar, maple syrup, molasses, hot sauce, chili peppers, whatever!

Larger items, such as whole turkeys, whole chickens and pork roasts can and should stay in a brining solution longer than smaller items.  When I brine a whole bird I give it at least 8 hours to 24 hours in the brine.  Shrimp, chicken pieces, and pork chops should stay in brine for a much shorter time.  Shrimp only need to brine about an hour, chicken parts  and pork chops for 2-4 hours.

Some will tell you that brines must be brought to a boil, then cooled down before use.  I say just throw all your ingredients into a big pot or bowl, stir until the salt has dissolved, stick your meat or bird in and refrigerate!  But do make sure to use a non-reactive container, such as a resealable plastic bag or a stainless steel pot or bowl.

When you are ready to cook, be sure to pat the meat or poultry dry. Your meat should be fully flavored at this point, but if I am making chicken or turkey I will rub the dried skin with butter or olive oil for browning. Do Not Add Any More Salt If You Are Adding Other Seasoning!

Here are a few brine flavor suggestions to try.  Don’t be afraid to try your own favorite flavors!

  • Apple juice, maple syrup and thyme
  • Ancho and/or chipotle chili powder, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sliced jalapeno chili
  • Fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, basil, parsley and tarragon
  • Garlic, honey, soy sauce and five spice powder
  • Rosemary, Garlic, and lemon
  • Wine, garlic, onions, and herbs

Basic Brine for Meat and Poultry

1 gallon of water

1 cup of kosher salt

1/4 cup raw cane sugar

6 whole peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp fennel seeds (this is optional, but since that is what was in my brine when I took the picture, I included it)

Place all the ingredients into a non-reactive container, stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, then add the meat or poultry of choice.  Be sure the brine completely covers the meat or poultry.

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista