Corned Beef – Get Ready for St. Patty’s

Last year, while working at Open Kitchen, we decided to put on a special St. Patrick’s Day menu for the patrons. Well, the star of the evening by a mile was my very own house-made corned beef. I had never made a corned beef before, but I understood the concept well enough. So with some research and patience, I turned out what had to be the best pair of corned beef briskets I ever had. (And the customers agreed!)

And this year, I’m sharing the recipe with you.

Now you want to start about now, because the process takes about 5 days. I’m giving you plenty of heads up so you can go buy a brisket today or tomorrow, and have it ready in time for the 17th.

At the end of the day, corned beef is really just a pickled piece of beef brisket that you then simmer low and slow for a good long while. It’s the pickling step that takes some time. And that’s what we’re going to cover today. I used a 2.5lb piece of brisket, since that’s about all I can reasonably handle in my house. If you want a bigger piece, go ahead, but scale the recipe for the brine up accordingly so as to have enough power in your brine to handle all the beef.

The first thing you’re going to need is a nice piece of beef brisket. This comes from the front chest of the cow and has long muscle fibers that make it tough when eaten like a steak, but beautiful when pickled and boiled! Trim it well of excess fat, but if there’s a cap of fat on the other side, leave that in place.

Next, we’re going to make the brine. I used 1/2 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. This is a pretty strong brine, because we’re actually trying to pickle the meat, not just brine it before cooking. Make sure all the sugar and salt are dissolved. (You can heat the brine to make sure, then cool it if you like/have the time.) You’ll know you have it right if the meat is floating – just like how your body (also made of meat) floats in salt water, but sinks in fresh water. Place the meat and the brine in a non-reactive container large enough to hold everything with room to spare – and which can fit in your fridge (which has proven to be problematic for me…).

It’s time to add some flavor to the brine, so here’s what I use. I have all the items on top of the beef in this picture so you can see them, but I stirred them in of course.

  • 3 cloves of garlic – peeled and halved
  • 1 inch piece of ginger – peeled and sliced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 star anise pod – crushed with fingers
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp dried red chili flakes
  • 1 generous pinch whole cloves
  • 1 generous pinch whole mace

      It’s OK – even preferable – to use the whole spices here as supposed to the ground varieties. They have more flavor and plenty of time to do their thing over the next five days.

Because the meat is floating, we want to weigh it down with something so all the meat is in the brine. A small plate does the trick. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap to stop evaporation, and place in the fridge. Once or twice a day, take it out and flip the brisket over in the brine, replace the plate and the plastic wrap, and put it back in the fridge.

That’s it for now! We’ll come back to this in five days!

Wow, between this piece of meat soaking for five days, and my Limoncello hanging out for a month, my apartment is really becoming overrun with long-term food projects. How Susan can stand to live with me, I have no idea! (I’m very happy she does though!!)

Chef Matt

P.S. The next post is ready. Read up on how to finish the corned beef here.

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4 Responses to “Corned Beef – Get Ready for St. Patty’s”

  1. Swan says:

    I’ve never had corned beef–a side effect of being vegetarian for 20+ years–but I look forward to trying it! What are traditional side dishes for this main?

    • Chef Matt says:

      Cabbage, potatoes, carrots and lots of horseradish sauce. And we’ll be covering that in the next post! 🙂

  2. Swan says:

    As for how Susan could possibly live with you, it’s probably for three reasons: (1) her fridge as a single gal usually held no more than leftover delivery pizza, so a beautifully full fridge that brings Chef Matt happiness is pure heaven; (2) you cook her uh-MAY-zing meals even when you’re dog-tired; and (3) you’re stupendously fantabulously amazing! But what do I know? 🙂