Citizens, the word corn in corned beef has nothing to do with the vegetable: it actually derives from Old English, and is used to describe any small hard particles or grains. Corned beef as a recipe probably dates back to the early Middle Ages!
In the case of “corned beef”, the word may refer to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef.
Although a frequent menu choice in Jewish delis as “corned beef on rye”, the dish has strong Irish roots as well. With St. Patrick’s Day almost upon us, it seemed apropos to showcase my personal recipe to make this at home.
Interesting anecdote – Wikipedia notes the following:
In North America corned beef dishes are associated with traditional Irish cuisine. However there is considerable debate about the association of corned beef with Ireland. Mark Kurlansky, in his book Salt, states that the Irish produced a salted beef around the Middle Ages that was the “forerunner of what today is known as Irish corned beef” and in the 17th century the English named the Irish salted beef “corned beef”.
Some say it was not until the wave of 18th century Irish immigration to the United States that much of the ethnic Irish first began to consume corned beef dishes as seen today. The popularity of corned beef compared to bacon among the immigrant Irish may have been due to corned beef being considered a luxury product in their native land, while it was cheaply and readily available in America
In Ireland today, the serving of corned beef is geared toward tourist consumption and most Irish in Ireland do not identify the ingredient as native cuisine.
Corned beef made at home is supremely delicious and not a difficult dish to make, but it is time-consuming. Never fear, Citizens – I am here to guide you to success!
I use a few unusual spices in my pickling spice mixture, feel free to substitute others that are easier to find if you so choose. That said, try and use my spice suggestions if you can. They aren’t THAT hard to find: for example, you can purchase Balinese Long Peppercorns here.
I promise this will make the finest corned beef you’ll ever taste – pair it with top-quality mustard and you will truly savor the flavor! 😀
Battle on – The Generalissimo
For the pickling spice (makes a lot of extra for future use):
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon chopped Balinese long pepper
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground mace
1 small cinnamon stick, crushed or broken into pieces
1½ star anise, broken into points
10 Juniper berries
24 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons green tea leaves
For the brine
1 gallon water
2 cups Morton’s kosher salt
½ cup sugar (pulverized Chinese golden rock sugar is best, or use light brown sugar)
1 ounce (5 teaspoons) pink salt (See Important Note At End Of Recipe!)– buy it here
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Hirshon pickling spice (use mine, but if you must, a good store-bought version suffices)
One 5-pound well-marbled (first-cut) beef brisket – If you can afford a Kobe-style brisket, get it! You want the fat cap still on it, if possible. Ask your butcher.
2 tablespoons pickling spice (above or store-bought)
Make the pickling spice
1. Lightly toast the dry spices in a small dry skillet, then smash them with the side of a knife just to crack them.
2. Combine the cracked spices with the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container or glass jar.
Make the brine
1. Combine the water, salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic, and pickling spices in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the brine until it’s completely chilled.
2. Place the brisket in the brine and weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.
3. Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. (Resting is not required here because the distribution of the brine will continue in the long, slow cooking process.)
Cooking the beef – the Hirshon method
1. Place the soaked meat in a large pot with cold water to cover. Add 2 onions chopped in half, 2 scraped carrots, 4 bay leaves and (optionally though strongly recommended) a splash of Tanqueray gin. Bring to the boil, remove the scum and simmer VERY GENTLY for about 3-4 hours, or until you can easily pierce the meat with the point of a knife. The cooking must be so gentle that the surface barely trembles.
Remove the beef, cover with foil to keep it warm, then add 8 small new potatoes (about 1 ¼ pounds), halved to the broth – bring to the boil and simmer 20 minutes or so till tender. Remove taters.
Slice the corned beef across the grain of the meat into thin slices and garnish with the potatoes. Ladle some of the hot cooking liquid over the corned beef and season with pepper. Serve with boiled vegetables and horseradish or use whole grain mustard.
Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.
Use this salt ONLY in the amount listed and NEVER for any other purpose but curing meat – in large doses, it will hurt you! Keep it locked away – it’s colored pink so you never mix it up with regular salt or sugar.