Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Corned Beef for the Wearing of the Green

A very important Holiday is a approaching. You might not realized it, but St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner. I must have that Traditional St Paddy's day meal Corned Beef and cabbage. That slow cooked pink meat that feeds the soul of my Irish heritage. That meal I seem to wait all year for. All I need to do is head to the store and pick out the best looking plastic bag with those pickling spices and I'm good to go...... What was that...Did I hear someone say something? A Year of Making EVERYTHING, you say? No, no, no this is a cured meat that doesn't count, remember. Hey where are you going?
Come on, We're talking about my favorite holiday apart from National IPA day. I get a pass for that right?.............Not speaking to me? Damn you're good. You must be Catholic too, because you understand guilt REALLY well. Okay, I give, I'll make my own Corned Beef, Satisfied? But if I have to, you have to do it too or share this post with someone else, DEAL?

Time to make corned beef, Okay what IS corn beef? I had to pull out the cookbooks and the internet for this one. Seems there isn't any corn in corned beef. (Okay I knew that but I couldn't resist) Corned is an old English term that refers to a process of preserving. As there was no refrigeration in medieval England methods were devised to preserve meat and vegetables for long winters. A method using a brine with spices became known as corning. If you take a look at the the ingredient there is always water, salt, sugar and Spices, kind of sound like pickles,That's because that is essentially what it is. Modern corned beef contains another ingredient, Saltpeter or potassium nitrate, that is added to help kill bacteria that might make the meat go bad and it is responsible for the pink color that corned beef is known for. Alas, potassium nitrate is bad for you but in small amounts and only occasionally, I think we can enjoy it.

So how did corned beef become the meal of St Patrick's day? Well one day a priest, a rabbi and an Irishman walked into a Jewish Delicatessen. No, Really! Seems that this Irish tradition that we all know and love is an American invention. See in Ireland a traditional meal would have been smoked pork and potatoes, but when the Irish immigrated to America pork was prohibitively expensive. Seems that pork was actually rich people food. You've heard the expression “Eating High on the hog”? Well that expression meant that the richer you were the more likely you were to be able to afford the better cuts of pork that were normally located higher on the animal. Looking for a substitute the Irish did what all immigrants to this country have done and looked to the cultures around them. They had Jewish neighbors that had been koshering and corning beef for years. It was convenient and relatively inexpensive,and so was born the Celtic/Hebrew fusion dish that we know of as corned beef and cabbage. Okay even I'm bored of the 

In order to find a recipe and a solid process for corning the beef, I turned to the sage like writing of Alton Brown. Every recipe that I saw for corned beef, his seemed to be the most complete. So armed with a recipe I headed out to go shopping. Surprisingly all the ingredients were fairly easy to find save for two. The recipe called for juniper berries. These were surprisingly difficult to find. Thinking to myself, I figured I would just leave them out. That was until I searched the internet and found that Juniper berries have anti viral and bacteria properties, which is why the were probably included in the first place. I also discovered that they are used in holistic medicine. A quick call to a health food store and I was in possession of juniper berries. The other ingredient was saltpeter. It was suggest that I try the local drug stores. After 3 hours of going from store to store, and an unpleasant encounter with a pharmacist, who reminded me that Saltpeter was the main ingredient in gunpowder and he was calling the police, (I may be on the “Do Not Fly List”) I still didn't have saltpeter. I could leave it out, even Alton Brown said that, but my St Patrick's day would not be complete if the meat wasn't pink. No, I have to find a substitute. So to the internet I went and found that saltpeter on line is REALLY Expensive, well what now. By luck I discovered that Morton’s makes a product called Tender Quick. A look at the ingredients and you will see that it is Salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are curing agents and the proportions of these two are exactly the correct ratio that the originally recipe called for, so I substituted Tender Quick for all the salt and saltpeter in this recipe.

Making this recipe is pure simplicity all the ingredients go into a pot, heat till Tender Quick and sugar dissolve, add ice and let cool. Finally, Place brisket and brine in 2 gallon plastic bag place in shallow container and move to the refrigerator. That's it, in 10 days you have Corned Beef. How did it Taste? I don't know it's still in the refrigerator You'll have to check back, because a future post will have all the recipes for my St Patrick's day celebration meal. Have you got a St Patrick's day food tradition? Post and let me know about it.

Corned Beef
Adapted from an Alton Brown Recipe

2 quarts water
1 cup Tender Quick
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
12 whole juniper berries
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 pounds ice
1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed


Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with Tender Quick, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.


  1. Must let us know how the corn beef turn out!!!

    1. Absolutely, Thanks for posting. I just got the follow up posted this morning. .