I absolutely love corned beef in almost all its forms — from traditional kosher preparations that end up thinly sliced in towering deli-style corned beef sandwiches, or in a corned beef and cabbage (and potatoes) incarnation, or my “dirty” culinary must-have, highly processed and colored and preservative laden canned corned beef from South America enjoyed with what else, but lots of Heinz tomato ketchup! :) But I have never attempted to make it from scratch, until a few weeks ago… and while the results were perhaps just a 7 out of 10 on the MM self-rated scale, it is definitely something I plan on trying again. But first, what gives with the strange name? To “corn” something means to marinate it in salt (little grains of salt are also referred to as corns of salt) and it stems from centuries ago when one killed a ginormous cow, then somehow had to preserve the meat that wasn’t consumed all at once. So salted beef was born. In the decades and centuries since, saltpeter or curing salts were added to prevent bacterial growth, and this gave the beef the characteristically pink tinge we now associate with corned beef. But I also suspect commercial corned beef these days is also dealt a heavy dose of red food coloring to avoid the pallid and sometimes unappetizing grayish hue of a homemade all natural corned beef.
I used this popular on-line recipe for corned beef by Alton Brown. I was a few spices shy, particularly the allspice and juniper berries (I only had half the amount he called for) so the beef wasn’t as flavored as it should have been. Also, I must have used more liquid than he did, as the saltiness factor was a bit low for me, though Mrs. MM thought it was salted just enough. A lot of commercial corned beef can be oversalted and they hope that the cooking process, where the beef is boiled for hours until tender, will remove a lot of the salt.
Basically, this recipe is incredibly easy to do. Just get a huge hunk of beef brisket (I used an Australian cut of brisket which happened to be incredibly fatty and had more connective tissues than is most desirable), place it in a cooled salty, flavored brine solution, and let it sit in the fridge for 10 days, turning the meat every day or so.
After the brining process is done, boil the beef with some carrots celery and onions for 2-3 hours until tender, remove from the water and let it rest, and voila! you have corned beef!
You can shred the meat with forks or slice it thinly like they do at good delicatessens. It’s good freshly made and hot, along with potatoes and cabbage. Or cold and sliced into sandwich filling. Or re-purposed into corned beef hash.
The day after I made the corned beef, I took it out of the fridge, sliced it by hand into thin slices and placed it on some lightly toasted rye bread (from S&R) slathered with lots of mustard. I served it with two homemade dill pickles, closed my eyes and imagined I was in New York having a corned beef sandwich. It was a stretch, I know, but it wasn’t that bad at all. :)
Some notes for those of you who are thinking of attempting this at home. Find some prague powder or curing salt, I used just 1 tablespoon rather than the 2 tablespoons called for in the recipe, but ended up with a very pale pink color to the corned beef. Go with the original 2 tablespoons of prague powder suggested. Don’t bother with red food coloring, unless you must have red corned beef for it to be appetizing to you. Make sure you have the appropriate amount of juniper berries and all spice to achieve the best flavor. Find a nice hunk of beef with not as much fat and gristle as the one I used in the photos above. Forget your preference for the corned beef in cans for just a day or two, and you might just be surprised with this classic way to make and enjoy real “corned” beef. :)