Never pass up an excuse to corn beef. Start now for St. Patrick's day dinner. Or for whenever. The cure takes five days, so plan ahead. I recently got a question about curing it at room temperature. The brine is a nearly 10 percent salt solution, so I imagine it would be fine for five days. Also remember that after it's cured you can keep it refrigerated for about a week before cooking. And you could keep it indefinitely in the fridge in the brine, but you'd have to be sure to cook the salt out of it after.
Any cut of beef can be "corned." (See my pastrami short ribs.) But the best cuts are the tougher, less-expensive cuts such as brisket. The only uncommon ingredient is the sodium nitrite, pink salt, available here and also from Amazon. This is what accounts for the deep red color of the beef and also gives it its distinctive flavor. I think it's important, but it's not necessary from a safety standpoint.
The following recipe is from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. The recipe for corned beef and cabbage, the dish featured above, is here. There's also a recipe for braised cabbage in my book How to Braise.
Home-Cured Corned Beef
- 1 ½ cups kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 tsp pink salt sodium nitrate (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 4 tbsp pickling spice
- 1 5-pound beef brisket
- 1 carrot peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion peeled and cut in two
- 1 celery stalk roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp mustard seeds
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp hot red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp allspice berries
- 1 tbsp ground mace
- 2 small cinnamon sticks crushed or broken into pieces
- 2-4 bay leaves crumbled
- 2 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- In a pot large enough to hold the brisket, combine 1 gallon of water with the kosher salt, sugar, sodium nitrite (if using), garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.
- Place the brisket in the brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.
- Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it. Cover with water and add the carrot, onion, celery, and remaining 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and cover. Simmer gently until the brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover the brisket.
- Keep warm until ready to serve. The meat can be refrigerated for several days in the 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.
- *A note about the salt: The salt level is not hugely critical here because it’s basically boiled, and the excess salt moves into cooking liquid. You can weigh out 12 ounces here if you feel better using a scale (approximately a 10% brine). Or you can simply make a 5% brine of however much water you need to cover (6.4 ounces per gallon). When you cook it, season the cooking liquid to the level you want your meat seasoned. Another option is wrapping the brisket in foil and cooking it in a 225°F degree oven till tender, but do this only if you’ve used the 5% brine.
- Combine the 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 the lid handy in case the seeds pop. Crack the peppercorns and seeds in a mortar and pestle or with the side of a knife on a cutting board.
- Combine with other spices and mix well. Store in a tightly sealed container.