March Charcutepalooza Challenge: Brining

For the March Charcutepalooza challenge, we made corned beef, which then ended up in a whole bunch of dinners:

Corned Beef and Cabbage

This dinner pairs slices of corned beef with gently simmered vegetables right out of the garden.  That cabbage in the picture is the first cabbage I have ever grown in my life, which makes this that much more exciting.  I named her Cleopatra. Cabbages strike me as being pretty feminine  (in a Georgia O’Keefe kind of way.)

Reubens

Dinner #2 was the one I was really excited about, since sliced corned beef is ridiculously expensive at the grocery store.  Now that I know how to make my own (for significantly cheaper) I can have these perfect melty cheesy crunchy tangy sandwiches whenever I feel like.  My little brother is in town for spring break, and when he took a bite of his sandwich, all I heard was “mmffffff good smchh mmmm” through a giant mouthful of corned beef.  The homemade corned beef isn’t just cheaper, it’s also way more juicy and flavorful than the grocery store counterpart.

Corned Beef Hash and Eggs

Dinner #3 was the simplest and maybe the best.  It was one of the crazy nights where there wasn’t a lot of food in the fridge or time to cook dinner, but some scrambled fresh chicken eggs and a quick sauteed hash was way more delicious than I was expecting.

Three Weeks Earlier

To end up with all this food, I started out with a beef brisket that I bought at a great little butcher shop in Bernal Heights called Avedano’s Meats. When I walked in, I came face to snout with a whole pig on the back table that three of the guys that worked there were breaking down with huge saws.  Very nice.  The cases were lined with all sorts of gorgeous meats-  rabbit, duck, beef, and more. When I noticed the case filled with guanciale, pancetta, bacon and other cured goodies, I felt like these folks would like what we are doing. I purchased two beef briskets and a pork belly (now that we know how to make bacon, we can’t stop doing it), and headed back home.

The next step was to make a brine.  Brines are simply salt solutions used to flavor meats or vegetables.  There’s lots of room for creativity when you’re brining something, all depending on what herbs and spices you infuse your salt solution with and how long you leave the items in the brine.  You can do a quick brine on pork chops or chicken for just a few hours before you’re ready to cook them, or you can do a long brine, where the meat stays in its salt batch for a week or more.  The texture changes, and the meat becomes very juicy and tender.

our homemade pickling spice, with all kinds of aromatic herbs like bay leaves, coriander, and crushed cayenne peppers from the garden

Once you’ve made the saltwater and infused it with spices, you let it cool, and throw in your meat or vegetables. Then, you wait….

The original recipe called to leave the brisket in the brine for five days, but there’s a small chance that I got really busy with a bunch of other stuff and almost left it in there for three weeks (yikes).  I was terrified that I ruined it.

beef brisket in the brine, day 20

The three week gap was a epic saga of farmers markets, marmalades, and a whole road trip to through the California Central Valley and the Sierra Mountains. The almond trees were blooming, and the air was filled with flower petals and bees.  I won $8 at slots in Reno at 2 a.m., with a really sad Journey cover band singing Don’t Stop Believin’ to one sad looking guy at the bar.  I drove through mountain passes, happy that the roads had stayed clear, but nervous about the 25′ snow banks on either side of the highway. Then back home, to the brisket.

The next step was to boil the corned beef.  I’ve found this whole charcuterie learning experience very confusing, because even though I know deep down that vinegar and pink salt (sodium nitrite) are preservatives, and that this big chunk of meat should be perfectly fine to eat, I still am slightly confused and baffled that the process works so well.  All I can think of is that if I put a piece of brisket in a tupperware in the fridge for three weeks with nothing on it, it would be a disgusting rotten mess.  Instead, when it sits in its herbal salt solution, it turns into this really delicious flavorful corned beef.  Crazy.

After the beef is boiled, it’s ready to eat however you want. I saved some of the cooking stock and boiled vegetables with it for our first big corned beef dinner, which turned out great.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Feeds: 6

Cooking Time: about 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 corned beef brisket
  • 1 large cabbage, split in half
  • 6 large red potatoes, split in halves or quarters
  • 12 large carrots
  • 6 cups reserved cooking liquid from the corned beef
  • salt and pepper
  • horseradish, optional, for serving

1. Pick vegetables.

2. Rinse and prepare vegetables. Put them in a large pot with the cooking liquid from the corned beef.  I cooked my corned beef separately from the vegetables, but if you haven’t boiled off the beef brisket yet, you could certainly cook everything all together, in one pot.  We’re goin for simple here.  Add water to cover the vegetables.  Cook for 45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.  In the last ten minutes, add the corned beef brisket into the pot to heat it back up for serving.

3. Season vegetables with salt and pepper, if needed.  Nicely arrange cooked veggies on a plate with a few slices of corned beef.  I like my carrots and cabbage with a little smear of horseradish on them for a spicy kick, but this is up to your own personal preference.  Eat up!

If that’s not an easy dinner, I don’t know what is. That’s been the wonderful thing about learning to cure and preserve meats; it tends to be a fair amount of time and effort spent up front obtaining ingredients and learning the process, but in the end you’ll have a large supply of items on hand to make lots of separate meals, which means I have more time to spend in the garden and less time in the truck doing errands.

And a preview: next months challenge in Hot Smoking, and J. totally coincidentally bought this massive new smoker three days ago.  It’s gonna get crazy!

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3 responses to “March Charcutepalooza Challenge: Brining

  1. Love the photos. Your Reuben looks spectacular!

  2. Meredith Thomas

    Hello–
    I’m not doing much growing, cooking, canning today because I cannot stop reading your blog! Thank you for taking the time to do this. I live in Austin, TX & there’s hardly a day when you can’t put a seed into the ground. I’m motivated to do the corned beef now that I’ve read your posting. I also want to do the hash just like you. Any chance you can post your recipe for this? Sadly, I’ve only had hash out of a can and don’t know how to make it myself.
    Thank you again for this blog!–Meredith

  3. Looks gorgeous – real corned beef that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the canned stuff. Great mixed with well seasoned mashed potatoes and used as filling for little pocket pies – yummy! Thanks for sharing : )

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