Corned Beef

Corned beef and cabbage is the quintessential food of St. Patrick’s Day. However, much like our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, the tradition of corned beef for your holiday dinner is an American invention and was not brought over from Ireland.

But what exactly is corned beef?
The process of “corning” meat is actually just salt curing or pickling. The word corning is used in reference to the size of the salt grains. They were typically as big as kernels of corn. Therefore, Corned Beef is just pickled beef, usually a brisket.

Historically, the Irish people considered beef to be a luxury that was not often eaten. And, instead they would turn to ham or bacon for their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in America where beef was actually cheaper and more readily available that corned beef became the staple. The same is true for cabbage. It was the most economical vegetable available and therefore became the obvious choice as an accompaniment.

The preparation of corned beef is not without controversy. Typically, corned beef is made using sodium nitrate to help prevent the growth of bacteria. It is also what gives corned beef its distinctive pink color. Some in the medical profession believe that sodium nitrate can cause damage to the blood vessels which can lead to heart disease. Others conclude it is harmless and that a person can consume more nitrates through other foods like spinach and celery. The debate continues on. But, ultimately the choice is up to you. Frankly leaving out the sodium nitrate, or salt peter as it is also known, can make it easier to corn your own beef as salt peter can be difficult to find. The flavor results are the same.

Corning your own beef is a great way to control what ingredients are used. But, beware that you will need to plan ahead. The brisket, or whatever meat you choose, will need to sit in the brine for multiple days.

Nitrate-Free Corned Beef Recipe
From adapted from Michael Symon’s Carnivore
Yields 4 to 6 servings

2 lbs kosher salt
1 lb packed light brown sugar
4 bay leaves, fresh or dried
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons crushed juniper berries
1 tablespoon crushed coriander seeds
1 5-pound beef brisket
1 medium red onion, peeled and quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 750 ml bottle white wine

Make the brine
In a non reactive pot, combine 6 quarts of water, the salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, and coriander and bring the mixture to a simmer. Whisk until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Chill this mixture completely.

Corn the brisket
Put the brisket in a deep container large enough to accommodate it. Pour the chilled liquid over the meat, weighing the brisket down with a plate to keep it fully submerged. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 4 days.

Cook the brisket
Remove the brisket from the corning liquid, rinse it, and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the corning liquid.

In a large stock pot, combine the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and wine. Add enough water to cover the brisket and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Add the brisket and simmer until the meat is fork tender (about 3 hours). Carefully remove the brisket from the cooking liquid and allow it to cool slightly. Thinly slice it across the grain before serving.

To store
Cool the corned beef completely, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Reheat the corned beef before serving.

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