Monday, March 19, 2012

Recipe: Brown Sugar Corned Beef

He [Pres. Calvin Coolidge] looks as though he's been weaned on a pickle. – Alice Roosevelt Longworth 

Pickling beef is extremely easy.
Whenever we hear the words “corned beef” (pickled beef) there’s almost always one word that follows: brisket. But this recipe doesn’t use it.

This is the pickling liquid.
Brisket is a cut of meat that comes from the lower chest of an animal. Animals like pigs and cows do not have collarbones, so the brisket muscle has to carry the load of the head of the animal.

Because of that fact brisket is full of connective tissue between the actual muscle. Therefore brisket must be cooked properly to tenderize that connective tissue (often called gristle in Nova Scotia). An unappetizing word…

Usual methods for cooking brisket are any process that allows for a long, slow cooking time. Those methods include rubbing with spices and barbecuing over indirect heat, or corning it. Corned beef takes a few hours to cook in water.

Corning is a salt curing method of infusing flavour into meat and preserving it, often via a brine solution. The brining tenderizes the meat as well. The term "corned" comes from an old word for salt crystals – corns.

But have you priced brisket lately? I know that all beef is almost a luxury, but it seems the cost of brisket has skyrocketed, if you can even find it short of a butcher shop. What was once a second-tier cut of meat (because of all the connective tissue) has now become pricy. The same holds true for flank steak. They're both off the scale in cost.

So when I corn beef I choose a different cut of meat. The trick is to purchase a roast that is fairly marbled. The marbling tends to keep the beef more tender as it boils.

You will note that my recipes for corned beef contain no nitrates. They usually come in purchased corned beef in the form of saltpetre. Saltpetre – not salt peter – is potassium nitrate, a nitrate that occurs naturally. It is used in the manufacture of fireworks, fluxes, and gunpowder. It also gives corned beef its distinctive pink hue.

Unfortunately in these post-9/11 days potassium nitrate is getting harder to find due to its use in making bombs. In some countries it is a restricted substance.

I haven’t been able to find any yet and I’ve been looking off and on for a year whenever I think of it. It doesn't really matter. Good corned beef is good corned beef, regardless if it’s pink or not.

This recipe, with a brown sugar twist, is  delicious with cabbage, carrots and potatoes. It makes me think of suppers I used to have when I was very young.

If you have a few days you can make your own corned beef. There’s no mystery to it. Actually I find homemade tastes better than purchased. But be sure to rinse it well or perhaps even soak it in fresh water for an hour before use if you have concern for salt in your diet. 

But give this a try. It's a skill worth having!

This is the meat after 3 days – beautifully "corned".
Brown Sugar Corned Beef
Prep: 2-3 days  |  Cook: 2.5 hours  |  Serves 4-6
4-5 lbs beef roast 
3+ cups water
1-1/2 cups sea salt
1/2 cup brown sugar 
4 bay leaves 
1 tbsp peppercorns 
1 tbsp pickling spices 
3” piece cinnamon
4 garlic cloves, halved

Heat the salt, brown sugar and water in a saucepan until dissolved. Let cool.

Place the sweet brine with all the other pickling ingredients in a sealable freezer bag. Shake vigorously. Then add the beef.

Seal the bag well (I used twist ties). Refrigerate for 2-3 days, shaking the bag at least once a day. Remove the meat and rinse it thoroughly. Discard the pickling liquid.

Simmer the corned beef in enough fresh water to cover for 2-1/2 hours. Add cabbage wedges, potatoes and carrots for the last 1/2 hour.

Slice the meat, serve with the vegetables, and enjoy!


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