Corned Beef Brisket

Corned Beef Brisket
Since Mary-Helen asked about my corned beef yesterday, I thought I’d share the recipe. I had the idea a couple weeks ago to make something “Irish” for St. Patrick’s Day. I ended up basing the dish on these two recipes. I’m really pleased with how it turned out! I had seen a lot of warnings that it would look grey and unappetizing without saltpeter (which is difficult to get these days), but mine turned out nicely browned. (Granted, it wasn’t the traditional “red”, but I didn’t mind.) Overall the dish was a lot easier and tastier than I expected!

I bought the brisket at Establishment 218, and it was a massive, vac-packed 8kg+ slab of beef. (It was flat, not rolled.) The butchers helpfully cut it into quarters so we could get it home (on our bicycles). I only ended up using half of it, and I sold the other half on to my Irish friend Kevin so he could make his own. :)Sunday night I prepared the brine. I boiled up 2 quarts of water with 1 cup salt, ½ cup white vinegar, 4 tablespoons sugar, 3 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon peppercorn, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds, and 1 pinch ground cloves. Then I left it to cool overnight. Monday morning I took out the brisket and cut it down into smaller pieces (to fit into my Ziplock bag). I also stabbed it all over with the knife to allow the brine to penetrate. Then I put all the meat into the bag (along with 4 smashed garlic cloves), poured in the brine, and sealed it up. It immediately sprang a leak. Some duct tape and a second layer of Ziplock seemed to fix the problem. I put it into a baking dish and slid it into our (giant new) fridge to rest.

Throughout the week I checked on it, periodically flipping over the bag to be sure it brined evenly. Friday morning we had a Brine Breach Incident, when I opened the fridge to discover the baking tray full of leaking brine. I managed to get the bag sealed up again without losing too much of the precious liquid. (Happy to report that the new fridge shelves don’t leak!)

Saturday was cooking day. Rather than cook it on the stove, I decided to use the slow cooker. I rinsed each piece of meat off and the Snook trimmed off the larger bits of fat. Then we crammed it all into the slow cooker (it *just* fit!) and poured water in to fill about halfway. I added more spice to the cooker as well: 1 teaspoon peppercorns, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds, ¼ teaspoon whole cloves, and 4 sliced garlic cloves. I put it on high for an hour or two, then switched it to low for the rest of the day. I checked to see if there was any scum to skim off, but the cooker was so full there wasn’t a lot of liquid surface area. It was probably in there for 9-10 hours all up.

As we got close to dinner time, I chopped up some carrots and threw them in. (I was hoping that by adding them late, they wouldn’t suck up so much of the saltiness. But they did anyway.) Half an hour before eating, I pulled the pieces of meat out onto a tray. I then cut up some cabbage and threw that into the slow cooker. The meat was well cooked, and it was very easy to remove the fat and silverskin. (The butcher had advised us that it was harder to do before cooking.) Warning: you do lose a LOT of volume with brisket. I think we ended up with about 50% meat and 50% water/fat/silverskin. After I cleaned it up, I put the meat into the oven to keep warm while I finished the sides. I also made a horseradish cream sauce using this recipe. It was great and earned me a big thumb’s up from the Snook.

Overall I’m not sure I’d bother with this outside of St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t really have a family tradition of corned beef, and I think I’d have been just as happy with a non-brined beef roast. It was a fun and tasty experiment though!


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  1. Thanks Kris. I love corned beef (although I’d never thought of it as Irish!), but I hanker after the fibrous meatiness of my childhood. I’m not sure when it changed to be kind of smooth and jelly-like – in the 70s, maybe?

  2. The interesting thing I learned this week is that you’re right, it’s not “Irish”… It’s “Irish-American.” It was a dish that the Irish immigrants invented because they couldn’t get the “bacon” (as they call it) that they were used to back home. I love stories like that!

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