How to Corn a Brisket of Beef
In 16th Century English, to corn meant to salt, as salt as we know it in all its refinements did not exist. Thus salt was available instead in blocks and chunks which could be broken down into grains, and the grains were known as corns. Turns out salting (thus, corning) meat is one of the oldest human preservation techniques, and after buying many corned beefs at market over the years, I found a recipe for corning beef a few years back and have test-kitchened it myself here at Liberty Street and now want to share it with you. Instead of the classic preparation for corned beef, i.e., pickling in a brine, this recipe, based on one I found at zenriech.com, became the basis for my own variation. This year I chronicled my whole process in photographs so what follows is my step-by-step process of how to corn your own beef, please, no jokes! Not sure how corned beef and St. Patrick’s Day found their connection, but the Holley side of my family has Irish ancestors so I make this dish now annually in honor of those who came before.
I started with a beautiful Emerald Valley, organic, grass-fed brisket of beef. A full brisket runs 12-14#, so butchers usually cut in two — the thinner part is known as the “flat” and the fatter, thicker section is the “point” or the “deckel”. What you see here is a 4# point of brisket.
Here I’ve gathered most of the ingredients for the rub: I used 1/2 cup real Utah sea salt, 1 tablespoon whole smoked black peppercorn, fresh-ground in a mortar&pestle with 1 tablespoon whole allspice, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, and a tablespoon each of New Mexican ground chile powders, Ancho, Cochise, Concho and Chimayo. These chile powders are not all about heat but more about flavor. The previous year I used all the Spanish pimentón powders, again not about heat but flavor. Here’s what I ended up with after all the grinding and mixing.
I put the brisket on my cutting board and used a meat fork to fully puncture both sides, making about 3 dozen punctures per side. Then I rubbed both sides with all these nice spices and pushed them into the meat with the back of a fork.
I placed the brisket in two, two-gallon Ziploc bags, squeezing as much air out of each bag as possible. Put the bag on a cookie sheet, put a heavy cast-iron casserole pan on top, placed a piece of parchment paper inside the pan, and added two bricks for weight.
This I put in our fridge, turning once a day every day for 9 days.
On the day of our dinner party, I removed the brisket from the bags . . .
. . . and placed it in the cooking pot . . .
. . . and covered with water to pull salt back out of the meat (soaked for two hours; changing the water after 1st hour).
After all this, we are ready to cook our brisket. Add fresh water to cover by at least an inch and bring to a boil. Skim any scum that floats on the surface, cover and simmer for two or three hours, until brisket slides off inserted meat fork. Remove brisket from broth, place in a heavy pan (I used a big terracotta Spanish cazuela), ladle some broth over the beef and cover with foil, then place in your pre-heated 200-degree oven.
Meanwhile, you have already purchased and prepped your vegetables; this year I used 1.5# carrot, 1# white turnip, 1# parsnip, 2 # Klamath Basin fingerling potatoes, and 3 Cippolini onions. Not shown is a 4# Nappa cabbage.
The carrot, turnip and parsnip all are peeled and chopped; the onions are chopped coarse; cut all the fingerlings in half. Set aside in bowl.
What I learned in my test kitchen: throwing all these great veg in one big pot at the same time results in mushy veg and an unsatisfactory outcome. This year, here’s what I did instead: I used a strainer gizmo that comes with my pot to put the carrot, turnip, onion, parsnip in and boiled them until done, then lifted them out of the broth and put them in my cazuela from the oven, surrounding the beef with the cooked veggies. I then boiled the potatoes in similar fashion, and put in cazuela. And finally cooked only 2# of my #4 Nappa cabbage, cut into mouth-size pieces. Here you see the result.
Home-corned and cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage!
Now comes the slicing . . .
. . . and tasting! (I give you tender, juicy shoulder pieces!)
. . . the way to a Woman’s heart . . .
. . . and the final presentation before serving the happy guests . . .
A friend brought a wonderful salad which we all enjoyed after the first course, and another friend brought a delightful custard/berry dessert to complete a great meal. I hope this post will inspire you to try this recipe as based on my guests’ response, the relatively simple steps (and the time marinating in the dry rub) led to a very tasty corned beef. Enjoy!