Corn your own Beef for St. Patrick’s Day
While corned beef is used one way or another in many cultures and cuisines—such as New England boiled dinner or on rye bread at a Kosher Jewish deli—it is most closely associated with the Irish, and has become a staple to be served with cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
CIA Professor John Kowalski, who teaches the college’s Garde Manger course, says salted beef has been served in Ireland since the Middle Ages. Corned beef was popular among the Irish immigrants to America in the mid-19th century. Many preferred it to bacon, considering the beef a luxury food.
The “corn” is not the corn as we know it today. In Old English, it referred to any hard grain particle and the unrefined salt granules used in the process resembled those pieces of coarse grain. “Corning” the beef helped preserve the meat so it could be served throughout the winter months. Now we just do it for taste.
Great Corned Beef Starts with Quality Meat
In making your own corned beef, the important thing is to start with a quality brisket or beef round. By doing it yourself, you can incorporate whatever flavoring you like, control the amount of salt and nitrites being used, and save money. Chef Kowalski explains that if you use less salt, you need to let the meat brine longer—up to several additional days—to ensure any “free water” is pulled out of the meat so no pathogens can grow.
In the old days, nitrites were added for food safety reasons. Nowadays that’s not an issue, as long as you handle and refrigerate the meat properly. However, he notes that removing the nitrites does affect color. So expect a corned beef that’s closer to gray than pink if you don’t include the nitrites in your recipe. It’ll still taste just as good, though.
“In addition to corned beef and cabbage, I love corned beef on a Reuben sandwich or a breakfast of corned beef hash with a poached egg on top,” says Chef Kowalski.
And if you’re wondering what’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami, here you go—instead of simmering for several hours after rinsing off the brine, pastrami will be rubbed with spices and hot smoked for four hours and then steamed for another four hours.
Here’s a recipe for making your own corned beef, adapted from Chef Kowalski’s CIA cookbook, The Art of Charcuterie (Wiley, 2011).
Makes one 10- to 12-pound brisket or beef round
1½ gallons water for brine, additional for later simmering
1 to 1¼ pounds kosher salt
5 ounces granulated sugar
3½ ounces Insta Cure (or another ingredient with natural nitrates, such as celery powder), optional
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon crushed pickling spice
10 to 12 pounds beef brisket or round
Additional spices to flavor, optional
- In a stockpot, combine the water, salt, sugar, and Insta Cure.
- Purée the garlic and pickling spice in a blender with about 1 cup of the brine. Combine the puréed mixture with the brine.
- Bring the brine to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
- Weigh the meat and inject with brine equal to about 10 percent of its weight.
- Place the meat in a brining tub or bag and add enough brine to completely submerge it. If necessary, use a plate or plastic wrap to keep it completely below the surface. Brine the meat under refrigeration for three days (or longer, if less salt is used).
- After brining is complete, thoroughly rinse the meat.
- Place it in a stockpot. Add enough water to cover the meat. Simmer for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse again.
- Cover again with water and any additional spices for flavoring, if desired. Simmer for three hours, or until tender.
- Remove from the water. If using brisket, split it in half, following the natural separation between the cap and brisket. Trim excess fat, slice, and serve. It may also be cooled, wrapped, and refrigerated for up to two weeks. Reheat by slicing the meat thinly and sautéing.