Corned Beef

I come from one of those families that at the breakfast table, we plan dinner. My dad relies very heavily on family traditions and benchmarks his year based around holiday meals. His heart broke a little the year I made turkey mole for Thanksgiving and Easter just isn’t Easter without my mom’s babka and paska cheese. And St. Patrick’s Day? Well, St. Patrick himself might reach right down and zap you personally if you don’t serve up a corned beef and cabbage dinner. Every year, we talk about corning our own corned beef, and every year he ends up with something vacuum packed and I end up drinking beer and remembering that if I wanted to corn my own beef, I’d have to have started on March 7th. Ah well, maybe next year. Pass another Guiness.

Well, not this year! This was the year that I bought Mark a small jar of pink salt from Williams-Sonoma and packed it into his Christmas stocking mostly convinced that it was really a present for me. Pink salt is regular salt dyed pink, combined with a small percentage (6-7%) of sodium nitrite and helps to preserve the red color in cooked meat. Think of a cooked hot dog. That dog would be gray as well-done steak were it not for a little pink salt magic. So too with corned beef. The small amount of the stuff keeps the meat red despite a week of pickling and then a few hours of cooking on St. Patty’s Day. With a little foresight, in my case 31 years, make your own corned beef and you’ll know exactly how much salt is in the brine and can feel better about what that distinct corned beef flavor is.

Corned Beef
For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 T pink salt
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 cinnamon stick snapped into pieces
12 juniper berries
8 allspice berries
8 whole cloves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 quarts water
2 pounds ice

5-6 pound beef brisket
a large (3 gallon) zip top bag

Measure out all the brine ingredients into a bowl. Pour the water into a large stainless steel pot and add the brine ingredients. Over high heat, stir occasionally until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved, but not too much longer because you don’t want the brine to get too hot as you just need to make it cold again. As soon as the salt and sugar have melted, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the ice to cool off the brine.

Meanwhile, place the beef into a large zip top bag. The largest I could find in the kitchen section was 1 gallon (too small) but in the home organization section, there were the same brand large bags I guess intended to store sweaters or Halloween costumes so I grabbed a box of those.

Its easiest if you have a vessel of some kind to hold the bag upright while you pour in the brine. This could be done by another person, but if you are home alone, use a pot or something similar and line the pot with the big bag. Push the meat down into the bottom of the bag and pour the cooled off brine over the top. Squeeze out any excess air and zip tight. If possible, leave the bag in the pot in the fridge so that any leakage is contained.

Mine looks a little like something out of Jeffery Dahmer’s fridge. Each day for ten days, take the bag out, roll it around, get the meat all snugly back under the brine and return to the fridge until St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll post a recipe for what to do next on March 15 so you’ll be already to prepare a genuine Corned Beef & Cabbage dinner.

  • Aunt Terri

    Hi Emily, NOW I know where your Aunt Bobbie gets the “What’s for dinner?” question at breakfast… it’s your father’s fault! I love your blog and will be following your corned beef story and hoping it turns out great! Oh and St. Patrick and I have an arrangement, I don’t drink beer or eat corned beef and he lets me get away with it. I know, how did I get into this family? My St Patrick’s Day dinner is margaritas with chicken or shrimp fajitas made with more green peppers than red peppers.