The day I became a meat goddess.
My culinary curiosity has taken an interesting turn in the past year. Like most people, when I began cooking, the focus was on throwing killer dinner parties involving elaborate concoctions that kept me busy for hours. Slowly my interest has shifted over to traditional food crafts: making jams, cheese, bread – things that are fairly simple in their ingredients and labor, but infinitely complex in technique. While perusing Green Apple Books for a present (for myself) a few weeks ago, I found a book on charcuterie that screamed “buy me!”. I did, and last night I tried out my first recipe. I wanted to start simple, since playing with meat is kinda pricey (I would rather not eat meat at all than succumb to cheaper, factory farmed meat), and I possibly have an unhealthy paranoid fear of botulism. Corned Beef seemed like a good intro to meat curing. It’s not something that I normally thought of as a great meal, but as of now that has all changed.
The first step was to create the blend of spices known as “pickling spices”.
I made a brine of water, salt, curing salt (I ordered it immediately after getting home with the book!), sugar and the pickling spices. I placed in 6 lbs of beef brisket, making sure that it was completely submerged, and let it chill in the fridge for 5 days.
I admit, I was skeptical after seeing it in its brined state. Not exactly…pretty.
I got even more skeptical when I cooked it, which involved boiling it for 3 hours. I generally reserve boiling for things like pasta, potatoes & bagels. The thought of boiled meat doesn’t exactly get me salivating. But my confidence built every time I walked outside and back in and could smell the spices doing there thing. John started greeting our dinner guests with “Welcome to the best smelling house on the block” and I started feeling REALLY good. And you know, it WORKED!
Like, REALLY worked. It was so salty and juicy and pink and delicious. For some people, it was religious. Even “I just got back from India and now I wannabe Hindu and cows are sacred” Bronson tried a piece. Tessa rediscovered Judaism, at least the salty meat part of Judaism. John postponed dumping me for some younger, hotter chefling. I couldn’t have been happier.
I cooked a full spread of Irish American food to compliment the Beef: Braised Cabbage & Collards, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, Brown sugar glazed roasted carrots…
and of course, a loaf of whole wheat Irish soda bread.
I slept very well last night.
For the pickling spice:
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons hot red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons allspice berries
1 tablespoon ground mace
2 small cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into pieces
24 bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
For the brine:
1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 ounce (5 teaspoons) pink salt (see Note)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons pickling spice (above)
One 5-pound well-marbled (first-cut) beef brisket
2 tablespoons pickling spice (above)
To make the pickling spice:
– Lightly toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet, then smash them with the side of a knife just to crack them.
– Combine the cracked spices with the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Store in a tightly sealed plastic container or glass jar.
To make the brine:
– Combine the water, salt, sugar, pink salt, garlic, and pickling spices in a pot large enough to hold the brisket comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the brine until it’s completely chilled.
– Place the brisket in the brine and weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days.
– Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. (Resting is not required here because the distribution of the brine will continue in the long, slow cooking process.)
To cook the beef:
– Place the brisket in a pot just large enough to hold it and add enough water to cover the meat. Add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 3 hours, or until the brisket is fork-tender There should always be enough water to cover the brisket; replenish the water if it gets too low.
– Remove the corned beef from the cooking liquid, which can be used to moisten the meat and vegetables, if that is what you’re serving. Slice the beef and serve warm, or cool, then wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve, or for up to a week.
Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.