How to Corn Your Own Beef
Many people think of corned beef as traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare, which originated in Ireland. Whether or not you have Irish heritage, it is still fun to get involved with the celebrations! Next time, instead of going to the store and buying pre-packaged corned beef, why not take a stab at making your own? It is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, the hardest part is leaving it alone for a few days to process! If you like the idea of having homemade corned beef which is tastier than the store-bought stuff, then give this a try.
When selecting the meat to be corned, it is important to purchase a good quality cut. The best choice is a flat-cut brisket, but make sure that the beef has been carefully reared. Organic, grass-fed beef will give you the best flavor, more vitamins, and it is healthier than other beef. In addition, for some people it is comforting to know that the meat that you’re eating enjoyed a good life!
Once you have your brisket it is time to select the rest of the needed ingredients. You may find that many recipes tell you to use sodium nitrate to cure the meat, however, recent concerns over whether nitrates are damaging to our health may change your mind. Various organizations, including the American Cancer Society and National Academy of Sciences, have declared that there is no risk of sodium nitrates causing cancer if you are using it in cooking. Therefore, it is ultimately your decision whether to use it or not. Why use sodium nitrates? The main reason for using sodium nitrates when making corned beef is to keep the meat looking pink. If you do not mind your beef turning a little grey-brown, then you can leave it out as it is not an essential ingredient, it just makes the meat look like you are accustomed to seeing it appear. Only you can weigh up the risks with the benefits!
The name ‘corned’ beef actually comes from the type of salt which is used in processing. Essentially, corning beef is just soaking the meat in brine, and the best type of salt to use has large crystals, called ‘corns.’ Whatever you do, do not use ordinary table salt, as the grains are too small. You would end up using more salt than the recipe calls for, and the dish would end up being far too salty. Generally, coarse ground Kosher salt is recommended, due to its large grains.
In cold water, you should combine the Kosher salt with a little sugar and some pickling spices (if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even try making your own pickling spices, as well!). The general rule of thumb is that the brine should be made up of ten parts water, two parts Kosher salt, one part sugar and half part of pickling spices. Basically, ten cups water, two cups Kosher salt, one cup sugar and a half a cup of pickling spices, but feel free to adjust the amounts slightly to suit your tastes. Mix the mixture until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Corned beef is delicious if the flavor runs throughout the whole piece of meat, and there are several ways in which you can achieve this. The most technical method is to use a marinade injector to inject the mixture deep into the brisket’s tissue. If that sounds too complicated, then it can work just as well if you pierce the meat all over using a small-bladed knife. The brine will be able to soak into the meat through the pierced holes.
Once the brine is made, and the meat has been prepped you may add the pierced brisket of beef to the brine. Use something heavy to weigh it down so that the meat stays submerged. Then it is simply a case of covering it and leaving it in the refrigerator for a number of days.
This is not the sort of dish which you can prep the day before you want to eat it. Different recipes will tell you to leave the brisket in the refrigerator for anywhere from four to eight days. In reality, the longer you can get away with leaving it in the refrigerator, the tastier the flavor will be. If you can prepare it around a week in advance, that would be ideal. Just remember to take it out of the refrigerator after about four days and flip it to ensure that the entire brisket is marinating evenly in the brine.
When the beef is ready, remove it and rinse it under cold running water. You are then ready to cook it however you please, although boiling in water is the traditional option. If you have cured your beef well, with a selection of tasty pickling spices, then you can probably get away with slowly cooking it in plain, simmering water for a few hours. That said, you can choose to add other ingredients such as garlic, allspice or additional pickling spices to the water and the brisket before boiling.
After around three hours of cooking, remove the beef from the pan and allow it to cool. Then all you have to do is slice it and enjoy a little taste of St. Patty’s Day, made from scratch! Another twist is to smoke the brisket in a smoker after coating it with cracked pepper. You’ll end up with some of the tastiest homemade pastrami you’ve ever tasted.