Posted by mike | Filed under Recipes
This weekend, I hosted my belated St. Patrick’s Day party. Being Irish (and big on beer), this is really my most important party each year. I’ve been making it happen (and making sure there’s corned beef and cabbage on the table) for 6 years now. The biggest differences between my first party and the one on Saturday: 1) I now brine my own corned beef, and 2) I now brew my own Irish red ale. I won’t get into the homebrew now, but I have been asked a lot about the corned beef. I’ll post the recipe here for those of you who are interested.
The foundation comes from a couple of sources, but it’s really pretty easy (provided you plan ahead). The key components are a 4-6 lb beef brisket and corned beef seasoning mix. Last year, I made my own seasoning mix from constituent ingredients, but this year I picked up a jar pre-mixed at Penzeys. The recipe I used was from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required). They suggests a dry brine: packing the beef in a salt mixture. There’s also a great recipe for a wet brine over at WasabiBratwurst, if you want to take that route. Actually, I highly recommend that recipe and hope to try it myself in the future.
The seasoning blend. The traditional corned beef seasoning calls for…
- mustard seeds,
- dill seed, and
- bay leaves.
Penzeys’ mix also contains…
- cardamom, and
- red pepper.
There are a lot of flavors floating around in there, but I think the mustard, coriander, and pepper are the most important. For the purposes of the dry rub, you will need to grind it all down. This is where a cheap old coffee grinder comes in–one of the benefits of having upgraded to a high quality burr grinder. For a 4-6 lb brisket, you probably want a quarter cup of seasoning and about twice that much coarse salt.
Dry brining 101. Stab the hell out of your brisket with a sharp knife, then rub your salt and seasoning on. You’ll probably have trouble getting it all to stick so it makes sense to do the rubbing in a caserole dish and keep working it as best you can. Toss the seasoned beef into a zipper bag: I like using those Zip-Lock™ vacuum bags with a little pump. Suck out the air, put it on a plate, and refrigerate. You’ll want to turn it once a day and let it brine for 7 days.
On the 7th day (the one before God created beer). Pull the newly-corned beef out of your bag. You really want to be sure to rinse it off at this point. No really, rinse it off pretty well–there’s plenty of seasoning sucked deep into the brisket at this point. Put the beef into a stock pot, and cover with 1/2 inch of water. Bring your beef (sans vegetables) to a boil and simmer for–a good long time. Cook’s Illustrated is way off here. They recommend 3.5 hours, and it’s just not long enough. My father always recommends 8-10. The real sweet spot is probably somewhere between those numbers. The shorter time will lead to a piece of meat with a little texture that’s pretty easy to cut. The longer time will lead to a piece of meat that falls to pieces as you pull it out of the water.
What no vegetables? You didn’t really think I left them out, did you? I mean, really, have you read any of my other posts? All I ever order is a salad. Anyway, Cook’s Illustrated has a brilliant suggestion here: leave them out until the beef is done. Once the beef is cooked to your liking, remove it, plate it, and move to an oven at 200ºF (or even under a piece of tinfoil on your countertop). Then you can throw in your veggies: carrots, onions, green cabbage, and potatoes are traditional. I mixed it up and tossed in some parsnips, rutabaga, and brussel sprouts for flare. You can basically fill the pot with them (around 6-7 lbs). Bring to a boil and let those cook until the starchy vegetables are quite soft. It’s probably even a good idea to hold the cabbage and brussel sprouts until the very end so they keep their structure.
And you’re done. Cut up your (now somewhat cool) corned beef, and plate with some of your vegetables. Serve with lots of beer and whole grain mustard. You’ll have a huge quantity of food, so make sure all of your friends are standing by—preferably with beer in hand.