Sunday, March 6, 2011

When Perfection is Improved

Corned Beef. That vacuum packed brisket held in some sort of liquid with spices. Usually you can only make out the mustard seed and crumbled bay leaves. I never really thought about what went into corned beef but I knew the history behind the name. The "corned" refers to the salt the size of corn kernels used to cure it. The salt wasn't named after corn though. Corn was named after the salt, as corn's traditional name is "maize." The word "corn" is actually Germanic in origin. When maize made it's way to Europe they called it corn because the kernels resembled the salt used to cure corned beef.

Today corned beef is brined and then boiled instead of corned with dry salt. But growing up I didn't care how it was made. I just loved it. It was by far one of my favorite foods. Always served on St. Patrick's Day with cabbage, potatoes and carrots. One of the things that made it so special was that this was the only time of year we got to eat it. My family does that. We take one meal and only serve it one time of year. Every Christmas eve we would have a crab feed. The only time of year we'd eat crab. It made it a tradition. Something special. Corned beef is just as special.

When the March Challenge for Charcutepalooza was announced I was excited! I would learn how to make this nostalgic hunk of meat. I've brined before. Actually, every year we brine a whole turkey for Thanksgiving. You can find my recipe here. I HIGHLY recommend you try the next time you serve a whole turkey, whether it's for Thanksgiving or for any other meal. You will not be disappointed. Since I have experience brining, it meant that I could do the Charcuterie Challenge rather than the Apprentice Challenge.

Making the corned beef looked ridiculously easy. Because it's so easy, the instructions were to make your own pickling spice. Seemed fair enough. Well, as it turns out, while I was writing down the list of spices and herbs to get, I wrote "ginger" twice and forgot to write down "cloves." I didn't realize this until I was dumping spices into the bowl to create the pickling spice. Doh! We were out of whole cloves so instead I made the decision to go with ground cloves. Ground cloves are ridiculously strong compared to their whole counterparts. This was definitely a gamble, but it was a bet I was willing to make.

After a week in the fridge soaking in brine I pulled out the brisket. I was dismayed to see it come out looking gray and unappetizing. I didn't even take a picture of it. But I wasn't going to give up. It was ready before we could cook it for the required 3 hours, so I dumped the brine and recovered the brisket with some fresh, cool water until the weekend when we could cook it. That coming Saturday morning we stuffed it into our slow cooker and covered it with some of the water it had been soaking in. We set the slow cooker on high for 2 hours and then on low for the next several hours. Around 4pm I pulled it out and put it in a dutch oven with the remaining liquid, some more water, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. We of course had to have a traditional meal with part of it. The rest of it when into the fridge for Monday's dinner.

I pulled the brisket out and cut it. It was that lovely red color I was hoping for. No longer was it gray. The flavor? Perfection perfected. The cloves gamble was well worth it. You could taste the cloves, but they weren't overpowering. It was by far the best tasting corned beef I had ever tasted.

The following Monday evening we decided to make sandwiches, another common way to eat corned beef. But we didn't just go for regular corned beef, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on rye. Oh no. We first started by making homemade garlic mayonnaise with green grapeseed oil.

We fried up slices of corned beef in bacon grease and then fried up an egg from our hens in the remaining grease.

 We slathered the mayonnaise on some toasted Amber Ale Bread that we had picked up at Model Bakery, added the corned beef, egg, and topped it off with a sliced lacto-fermented pickle I made this past summer. We served this amazing tasting sandwich with fried potatoes and kale chips we made earlier in the week.


  1. oh, my, I think my eyes just popped out. that sandwich is food porn at its finest!! well done!

  2. outstanding! I've been doing corned beef for a while, but have to try your recipe! looks heavenly.

  3. Yum! I'm going to go ahead and admit I've never had corned beef, but I'm all for it now!

  4. YUMMM...we just had this two weeks ago and now I'll have to make it again!

  5. HELP! I cant find your recipe! DebC

  6. I'm Irish so I was raised on corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes! YUM!

  7. Deb, The recipe is in the book Charcuterie so I can't really post it here. Sorry. :(

  8. This is beautiful. Yum! Your corned beef looks like it came out perfectly. Congratulations!