The corned beef experiment

March 18, 2016

Pastrami section, with rub, ready to go in. Corned beef in background.

Pastrami section, with rub, ready to go in. Corned beef in background.

Thursday, March 10:

We’re trying it one more time — corning our own beef. We would be self and me, who have managed to collectively screw up corned beef for the past few  years. This year, we are adhering slavishly to the brine recipe of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, masters of charcuterie, and sous vide cooking directions from the eGullet food forum.

Today we went into the brine. In a big roasting pan, in the extra fridge out back. A 7.2 pound piece of brisket, which is a Big Damn Brisket, from my quarter-steer (which gives you an indication of how freakin’ big the steer was for him to have three more chunks this size).  It will get cut in half, as it is Way Too Much corned beef for one household, and served for St. Patrick’s Day next week, with some leftovers for sandwiches, and for corned beef hash, and more leftovers to be frozen. The other half will get coated with a pastrami rub and frozen, ready to be smoked at some future date.

Here’s the brine recipe. It’s an all-day, or overnight, experiment in and of itself, as you heat it to dissolve the salt and sugar, then refrigerate it before you put the beef in.  I made it with about half the called-for water, poured it over in the roaster, toted the roaster out to the extra fridge, added ice cubes to make up the remaining water, and let it sit until the next day, when I figured it cold enough to slip the brisket into just before we left for Nashville.

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 16

Well, we’re on step 2 of the Great Corned Beef Experiment, Year four or five, I forget which. I’ve not yet been successful. I’ve sworn I was giving it up.

The brisket came out of the brine yesterday evening. In the interest of not having to make repeated trips in and out to the extra fridge in the storage room, when I got it out of the brine and rinsed it off, then rinsed out the roaster, I let it soak in its clear water with ice cubes in a cooler. I changed the water about four times over a 24-hour period. I feel relatively certain it stayed cold enough we won’t die of salmonella or some such horrible disease.

This afternoon, I poured off the last of the soaks, gave it a final rinse, and contemplated it. I knew I wanted to cut it into two different pieces, one for corned beef and one for pastrami. I judged the flat portion would make better, or at least more regular, sandwich slices, while the point could furnish corned beef to be pulled or chopped for hash as well as some sliced for sandwiches. So that’s what I did.

Burbling away in the sous vide bath.

Burbling away in the sous vide bath.

The point portion went in a vacuum bag with some more pickling spice. I made up a pastrami rub from this recipe, and patted the destined-for-pastrami down heavily, bagged and sealed it as well. Both will cook for 24-ish hours at 145 degrees. Then the pastrami piece will go in the freezer, to be smoked at some later point, and the corned beef will go in the fridge after being tasted for salt content and tenderness. If it’s too salty, it’ll be boiled to finish it off; if it’s too tough, I’ll probably wrap it in foil and roast it Thursday for dinner (and sandwiches over the weekend, and corned beef hash.

To be continued….

Thursday, March 17 (and a happy wearin’ o’ the green to ya!)

Nailed. It.

I guess persistence does eventually pay off. After six or seven years of failure, I finally turned out a home-corned beef brisket that was not only respectable, but pretty damn good.

I pulled the bags out of the sous vide about 3:30 this afternoon. The pastrami-designated piece went in the freezer. The corned beef end of things I took in the kitchen. It was the point portion; got it out of the bag, trimmed off what seemed to be a Godawful amount of fat, and commenced to slicing. Because it was the point, there are some slices that are rather odd-shaped; you could make sandwiches, but you’d have to deal with pieces falling out.

Here 'tis. And a good dinner it was.

Here ’tis. And a good dinner it was.

The aforementioned bits and pieces of corned beef should be excellent material to chop up fine and use in corned beef hash, which I am contemplating for breakfast tomorrow morning. With an over easy egg on top. Can’t beat it.

It was tender enough. Wouldn’t have hurt it to cook a few hours more, but it was sufficiently tender that the chewy texture was not an issue. Excellent flavor. The soak, almost 24 hours with three or four water changes, leached out enough excess salt to leave it pleasantly seasoned. I used the jus that had cooked out and remained in the bag to cook the potatoes and carrots in, and they were excellent.

The cabbage, though, was the star of the show. I cut a half-head that had been languishing in the fridge into three thick pieces. I brushed all those down in olive oil, and salted and peppered them liberally. Then I ran them in the oven for 30-ish minutes at 375.

People. This is Sweet Baby Jesus good cabbage. Child A said it tasted a lot like boiled cabbage; I didn’t think so. The caramelization of the sugars in the cabbage makes the end product positively sweet, though there is no sugar anywhere about it. I thought it was outstanding. I may never fix cabbage any other way. Well, except slaw.

I can’t wait for corned beef hash. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em come on over and we’ll have us a big ol’ breakfast this weekend. I may even make biscuits.




2 Responses to “The corned beef experiment”

  1. koolaidmoms Says:

    I am so glad it worked this year. Do you think it was the recipe that made the difference? Just curious. I have wanted to try doing our own but am hesitant.

  2. kayatthekeyboard Says:

    I think a big part of it was getting the “real thing” Prague powder. I ordered mine online from Amazon; it was cheap. And then the soak before I cooked it, to get some of the salt out.

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