Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Like My Beef Like I Like My Women (full of Guinness and in my mouth)

Set to the tune of:  Flogging Molly's Salty Dog

Twenty bucks says you didn't know Corned Beef was invented by the Babylonians thousands of years before the birth of Christ in an attempt to ward off evil spirits from the rice crops.

That's because it isn't true.

But it IS horrible segue into what I really want to point out.  St. Patrick's Day is coming up and what would a St. Patrick's Day be without copious amounts of booze and meat?  The same could be said for Independence Day, Christmas, Presidents' Day, and Tuesday mornings.

A couple years ago I had the best corned beef and cabbage I'd ever had in my life.  Imagine my surprise when it was me who'd made it!  Let's take a look:

Most, if not all, corned beef starts as a simple, humble beef brisket.  It gets cured slightly (either by dry or wet means - we'll get into that a little later), braised in a liquid and sliced.

You could just use water.  But why add anything to your dish that isn't gonna bring any flavor?  No...for our purposes, we're gonna need better stuff.  Guinness spiked with a little beef and chicken stock should do the trick.

Basically we're talking aromatics, here.  Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, & bay leaves.  This is to flavor the braising liquid and thus the meat.  The stuff we're actually going to eat (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, and of course the ubiquitous cabbage) will come at the second stage of cooking.

The first step is to actually get the brisket.  A brisket is actually two muscle groups and as such has two different cuts.  The first is the 'point' cut and is big and thick, and layered with delicious fat...just like your humble narrator.  The second is the 'flat' cut and is thinner, leaner, and pretty damn good, too.  You can go two different ways with it.  You can cook one or the other....or you can do both simultaneously.  Your call.  Your butcher will be able to direct you further.  And don't be afraid to ask those nice fellas in the meat section of the supermarket to cut one for you...that's what they're there for.

Another option is get a commercially cured brisket (they come in either point, flat cuts, or both).  This is one of those (rare) times when a store-bought product is just as good as something you can make yourself (the other is ketchup).  They usually come with an array of spices and curing medium. Note, do NOT get the presliced, pre-cooked, or canned stuff.  All you want is just the pre-cured meat.  If you're interested in buying already 'corned' beef, just wait till the next Braised in Captivity installment.  If you want to cure it yourself, read on.

Ok, so you've gone to your supermarket or butcher and you've gotten either the point or the flat cut or both.   Now what?  Now you cure that sumbitch!

You have a couple options, here:  A wet or a dry cure.  Both are ridiculously easy and both require a few days (from 5-10 depending on your cut).  I'm gonna treat this like a choose your own adventure-type recipe, so:

(note:  This should be plenty for one cut or the other.  If you're doing both, you may need to adjust accordingly)

Yer gonna need:
1 Gallon/4 liters Water
2 Cups/450g Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup/100g Sugar
1oz/ 25g/ 5 tsp TCM*
3 Garlic Cloves, smashed
2 Tbl/ 20g Pickling Spice Mix**

5lb Beef Brisket

*Also known as pink salt, curing salt, insta-cure and under number of brand names. 
**A mixture of mustard seeds, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and some other spices. Readily available in most supermarkets.

1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably.  Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Then refrigerate the brine until it's completely chilled.

2. Place the brisket in the brine using a weight until it is completely submerged.  Refrigerate for 5 days. Note:  If your meat is able to fit in a sealable bag, this method is also acceptable.  But put it in another container, too, just in case it springs a leak.


Yer gonna need:
3 Garlic Cloves, minces or smashed into a paste
5 tsp TCM
1/2 to 1 Cup Kosher Salt (depending on the size of your meat)
2-3 Tbl Pickling Spice Mix

1. Pat Brisket dry.  Excluding the garlic, mix all the dry ingredients in a little bowl.  

2. Spear the meat about 30 times per side with meat fork or metal skewer (have as much fun as possible with this).  Then rub the garlic all over the surface of the meat.  Then rub the meat with the salt/spice mixture.  Place in a 2-gallon zipper-lock bag (try to squeeze out as much air as possible) and place in a container to catch any leaked juices.  Place a weight (a brick or some cans will do) on the bag and refrigerate for 5-7 days.  Don't be afraid to cut the meat down further if it won't fit into the bag as is.

The TCM in both procedures are there for one purpose:  To keep the meat pink.  If color isn't important to you, just replace it with salt.  The meat will taste the same, it just won't be that nice pink color.  Also, there are some studies that may suggest that nitrates and nitrites (of which TCM is one) which suggest that excessive consumption of cured meats (cured with TCM) may be damaging to ones health.  So don't be afraid to omit it....just realize that your meat will look fully cooked or 'gray' at the end of it all.  I'm going with the TCM-cured beef since I like the pink color and I have some TCM laying around from our bacon adventure

Ok, Braisers.  We'll meet back here in a few days for the actual cooking process.  


  1. Don't keep me hangin!!


    1. Don't won't be waiting long! :)

  2. Ahhhh.. corned beef. It does bring up thoughts of beer and Irish music. I adore that you make your own..
    I'll have to check around for TCM??