Saturday stuff

July 17, 2010

As usual, a rather disjointed Saturday. It started with a trip to the Farmers’ Market, concluded with burgers, and there was corned beef in between.

This will be corned beef when it grows up. Pastrami, too.

I have Taken The Plunge and started a six-pound beef brisket to brining. This was the self-same brisket that was procured last weekend and has been reposing in my fridge ever since, because I got called out of town unexpectedly last weekend and didn’t get it done.

Good thing I didn’t try, as today’s adventure involved a 20-mile or so round trip and stops at half-a-dozen unlikely places in search of saltpeter. Apparently, the level of sexual vitality these days is low enough that no one needs saltpeter any more.

I wouldn’t know. It’s been a long damn time. (Nunya bidness HOW long, thank you very much. Some things a gal doesn’t tell.)

Anyhow, Lucy Lu and I set out about 7:45 this morning for the Farmers’ Market and some brief errand-running. Brief because I wasn’t leaving the dog in the car for more than 5 minutes at a time, and that only if I could park in the shade and roll down the windows. After she charmed her usual band of admirers at the FM, and I acquired tomatos, squash, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, sweet potatos and ground beef, we made a pilgrimage to get double-yolked eggs and saltpeter.

This is a lovely chunk of brisket from PJF. I will be mortally pissed if this does not turn out well.

I stopped first by the Culinary District. Figured it was a long shot, but, well, maybe. Nada.

But I figured Farm and Home Supply, home of the double-yolked eggs, would surely have it.

You have to see this place. You walk in past racks of used clothing, used books, and assorted used household goods, in a sort of foyer/anteroom. In past that, and it commences to look like a grocery. There’s a produce counter, some coolers, a couple of aisles of canned goods and such. Move on over, and there’s pet and livestock needs. Past that, there’s garden and yard stuff (herbicides, pesticides, a garden gnome or two). And then there’s hardware.

But there ain’t no saltpeter.

Saltpeter, by the way, is not to squelch the sexual awareness of a chunk of brisket. (That brings up mental images I’d just as soon not have.) It is to preserve the red color of the meat. You can accomplish the same thing without it, but your corned beef will be grayish tan.

Screw that noise. I don’t want any grayish tan corned beef, thank you very much.

So while I’m out on that end of town (I’m on one end of an L; downtown and the farmer’s market is at the corner of the L, and Farm and Home is out the other end, and you can’t cut across because there’s a  Big Honkin’ Lake in the way), I decide I’ll go another couple-three miles and check out Don’s Country Meat Market.

No joy.

But Don, a nice little rotund man in an apron, tells me I might try the county farmers’ co-op, which is halfway up the other leg of the L, back toward my house. And I did, and while they didn’t have just plain saltpeter, they did have Morton’s Tender Quick, which the Interwebs has mentioned as a substitute for saltpeter. So I grab a bag of same, and Lucy and I head home with our produce and our beef and our eggs. And, in a rare display of intelligence and forethought, I Read The Bag.

Now, I had noted the fact that Alton Brown’s recipe called for 2 tablespoons of saltpeter, and I had noted that Morton’s Tender Quick comes in a two-pound bag, and it had occurred to me that at that rate, I’d be using that stuff until hell froze over, if I cured corned beef a dozen times a year. And in perusing said bag, I in fact found out what appeared to be a major discrepancy in “needed” and “available” was not so very great after all. Seems that Tender Quick, far from being a brand name for saltpeter, is actually a meat cure made up of salt, sugar and saltpeter, which would blow Alton’s proportions all to shit.

Alton had called for a cup of salt and a half cup of sugar, among other stuff, for his brine. A quick Google of Morton’s Tender Quick yielded a recipe that called for two cups of the product to dry-cure a four-pound brisket. I extrapolated from that that if I used two cups of TQ in the brine, with maybe a slight increase in the spices (cloves, juniper berries, allspice berries, a cinnamon stick, peppercorns, I forget what all else). So that’s what I did.

Brilliance, I tell you. Brilliance. I'm so good I scare myself.

Boiled all that together, added ice to cool it down and then, in a flash of inspiration, used the ground beef I was thawing for burgers as coolant for the brine. Damn, I’m good.

So, in two weeks, we shall see. I’m going to whack that baby in half, and boil half of it for corned beef and smoke the other half for pastrami. It’ll either be the most wonderful thing since sliced white bread, or it’ll suck. And if it’s the latter, I’ll be seriously PO’d, because that was a big, and rather pricy, chunk of brisket and I seriously do not want to ruin it.

So you and y’mama ‘n ’em think positive thoughts for my brisket, and in a couple of weeks y’all bring some good homemade sauerkraut and some swiss cheese and some Thousand Island dressing and we’ll have a big ol’ Reuben.

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