Friday, March 23, 2007

Corned beef and cabbage

Well, it has been awhile since I got a chance to post on anything...to make up for the absence, this is the story of how I home-cured a brisket into corned beef then cooked it up with other things on St. Patrick's Day. This should answer the oft-asked question: "What exactly is a corned beef?" and "What do you mean you corned a damn beef?" and so on. Interestingly (or maybe not, you be the judge) the word "corned" in this case refers to the salt you use during the process. I guess large bits of salt were called "salt corns" at one time. So really, we're just saying "salted beef," sort of like pickling it or preserving it; the end result is kind of like a cross between jerky and home-made pickles. Anyway.

First of all, I procured a large amount of flat-cut brisket from the venerable DeKalb Market. I got 7 pounds at first, then figured I'd need more so Marilyn kindly picked up another 3 pounds. Took this 10 pounds of brisket and pricked it all over, both sides, with a fork. I mixed 1 cup kosher salt with 2 tablespoons each of ground allspice, cracked black peppercorns, dried thyme, paprika and about 5 crumbled bay leaves. Notice that there is no saltpeter in there. That's what makes corned beef turn bright pink, which is a color many people expect to see. I don't use it. It's an ingredient in gunpowder and that makes it seem suspect. Probably toxic. Spread this salt & herb mixture over both sides of the briskets, kind of like a dry rub. Packed up the seasoned beef into large ziploc bags and stuck them in the fridge in a large metal baking dish (so they wouldn't get all drippy on the fridge). They stayed in there for about 5 days, getting flipped over every now and then.

The day before St Patrick's Day, I removed the now-corned beef from the bags and rinsed them off. I had to use 3 pots to accomodate all the beef. They got covered in water and I added about 3 tablespoons of pickling spices per pot. Then I set them to boil for a couple hours, until we had to go pick up Francesca and Paul from the airport because they were coming to visit us for the weekend. This is really the only reason that I started pre-cooking the corned beef--I didn't want to get stuck in the kitchen and waste time that I could have been spending with Fran and Paul. If you are doing this, you should just cook it all the day you intend to serve it. This also cuts down on possible foodborne disease (mmm, toxins! Clostridium perfringens, anybody?). I followed instructions from the person at my job who is in charge of restaurant inspections--she gave me very specific directions on cooling it to a safe temperature before storing it in the fridge over night.

Marilyn drove me to the market to get 2 green cabbages and about 5 pounds of mixed red potatoes and tiny fingerling potatoes. I try to get them as tiny as possible--they are so cute and can be boiled whole without any cutting up. She also came over to hang out and help me prep ingredients which was very helpful. She sliced all the cabbage up into chunks and we cleaned the potatoes.

About 1 1/2 hours before we expected anybody to show up, I put the 3 pots of corned beef back on the stove and brought them to boil again. I ended up consolidating into 2 pots of beef (the brisket shrinks down quite a bit) and saving the other pot full of liquid to cook the potatoes in. I added water as necessary to keep the pots from boiling off all their liquid. About 25 minutes before eating, I put the potatoes in to boil and 15 minutes out, I added the chunks of cabbage to the pots with the beef and also about 2 pounds of carrots, peeled and chopped into 3 inch chunks. When the vegetables were done, I drained them and took out the beef, sliced it against the grain and arranged it all on platters with beef in the center, surrounded by cabbage, carrots and potatoes heaped on the side. And let me tell you, that was some tender, delicious corned beef.

We had a ton of people over. Byron was first one there, besides Francesca and Paul who don't count because they were staying at our house. Rick made 3 loaves of his excellent irish soda bread. He's really good at it--seriously, he should open a bakery that only sells soda bread. Katie produced these gorgeous little profiteroles for dessert that she makes with a perfect pâte à choux that I could never duplicate. She sliced them open and we stuffed them with ice cream that Marilyn and I had made the night before. It was vanilla but we added green food coloring to be festive. And we all drank a ton of whiskey and it was a lot of fun.

2 comments:

j.bird said...

dude. it's called corned beef because it is made in the cornish manner, which is to say "how they did it in Cornwall." talk about salt corns one more time, and i'll... well, don't make me come down there!

carla said...

i am the jocelyn! i speak for the trees...er, the corned beef!

please cite your sources.