It’s almost St Patrick’s Day – do you have your corned beef recipe ready? Please don’t tell me that you’re going to head out to your local box-type grocery store and buy some cryovaced mass of artificial coloring and flavoring. No, no, no. You’re going to find some high quality beef and brine your own at home, right? Ok, good.
Always the curious type, I decided to brine my own corned beef for Saint Patrick’s Day a few years ago. Before then I had never brined/cured/charcuterized anything, so this was a big step for me. Meat is such a volatile thing when it comes to letting it sit out, and as someone who already has a few digestive issues, let’s just say I’m a bit paranoid. Actually, let’s say I’m A LOT paranoid.
A while back, I did a review of the River Cottage Meat Book. It’s no secret that I love this book, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was the first person I consulted about how to go about making my own corned beef at home. An always patient guide, he didn’t let me down – and my adoration for his book runs even deeper after this project.
After a fair amount of panic that I’d screwed up the whole process (as anyone who saw my frantic Chow forum posts over that week can attest), the corned beef was amazing. I blushed while my guests gushed, and all the while I was writing a love letter to Hugh in my head. Now it’s a yearly tradition in my house. I hope you’ll consider doing the same.
What’s the best way to cook corned beef?
Below is the original recipe for corned beef that appears in both the River Cottage Cookbook and the River Cottage Meat Book. Ten Speed Press has graciously posted a PDF of the recipe online as well.
Give yourself about two weeks before the big day to allow your brisket enough time to properly brine and rinse. Once it’s done, you can store it in the fridge for a week or two. After all, it’s already been cured.
This corned beef recipe was so easy, you probably couldn’t screw it up if you tried. Why settle for the crappy store-bought corned beef and cabbage when you can make something tastier and more natural at home?
What’s stopping you?
River Cottage Corned Beef Recipe
- 5 quarts water
- 1 pound demerara or light brown sugar
- 3 pounds coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries, coarsely crushed
- 5 cloves
- 4 bay leaves
- A sprig of thyme
- 3 tablespoons saltpeter (optional)
- 4 to 6 pound piece of beef (brisket or flank)
For the actual cooking:
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped
- 1/2 garlic bulb
- Put all the ingredients for the brine into a large saucepan and stir well over low heat until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Bring to a boil, allow to bubble for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
- Place your chosen piece of beef in a nonmetallic container, such as a large Tupperware box or a clay crock. Cover the meat completely with the cold brine, weighting it down if necessary with a piece of wood (I used a big rock in a sealed tupperware container). Leave in a cool place (a place under 40°F, such as the refridgerator) for 5 to 10 days. You standard 4-5 pound brisket should be just fine with five days in the drink, and joints of less than six pounds should not be left for more than a week or they will become too pickled.
- Before cooking, remove the beef (or tongue) from the brine and soak it in fresh cold water for 24 hours, changing the water, at least once (you could make that 48 hours if it had the full 10-day immersion). Then put it in a pan with the bouquet garni, vegetables, and garlic, cover with fresh water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach very gently on top of the stove—or in a very low oven (275ºF) if you prefer. A 6 pound piece of beef will take 21⁄2 to 3 hours. Cook until the meat is completely tender and yielding when pierced with a skewer.
- Serve hot corned beef carved into fairly thick slices, with lentils, beans, horseradish mash, or boiled potatoes, and either creamed fresh horseradish or good English mustard.
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