As an Irish girl (though married to an Italian), Corned Beef has been a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for years (yes, I know that it is really an Irish American tradition…)
If this is a tradition at your house as well, I’d highly encourage you to brine your own corned beef. (If this isn’t a tradition at your house, I’d encourage you to adopt it!)
Sure, you can buy a corned beef brisket pre-made and neatly packaged in its plastic bag…. it’s even nice and pink from the use of saltpeter in the brine.
What is saltpeter? Glad you asked…. It is known chemically as potassium nitrate and it is used in making fireworks and gun powder. It’s also strong enough to dissolve tree stumps. But I’m sure it’s safe to eat… or not!
If you aren’t a fan of eating gunpowder either, making your own corned beef from an inexpensive beef brisket is really easy and it has a much better flavor than store bought anyway.
The only thing it won’t have is that hot pink color that the store bought versions have. If that bothers you, just do what I do, and add beet juice and hot pink sauerkraut to the last part of the brining process…. voila! Hot pink corned beef.
The recipe I use to brine the beef is adapted from Alton Brown’s version. I love his shows, even though I won’t cook many of the things he does, but he explains the chemistry of cooking so well. (Yes, I’m a dork.. I know) I also like that his recipe lists the prep-time as 243 hours… (mine takes 5 days)
Willing to give making your own corned beef a try? Here’s what you’ll need:
- The meat:
- One 4-5 pound beef brisket... grass-fed if possible
- The Brine:
- 2 quarts of water
- 1 cup of sea salt (I use Himalayan sea salt)
- ½ cup raw can sugar or organic brown sugar (don't worry, the residue sugars in the finished product are minimal)
- 1 stick of cinnamon or about ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
- 1-2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
- ½ tsp whole cloves (about 8-10 individual cloves)
- 1 tsp allspice berries (optional)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (optional)
- 1 tsp juniper berries (optional)
- ½ tsp dried ginger powder or about 1 tsp fresh minced ginger
- ½ tsp dried thyme leaf
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed or ½ tsp garlic powder
- 2-3 bay leaves, crushed
- ¼ cup beet juice or juice from homemade sauerkraut made with purple cabbage(optional)
- Put the water, salt, sugar and spices (except beet juice or sauerkraut juice) in a large pot and heat, stirring frequently, until sugar and salt dissolve. Cool liquid, using 2 cups of ice if needed, and place in fridge until very cold. It is very important that the brine is cold before it comes in contact with the meat.
- For the 3-5 day brining process, you can either place the brisket in a large, 2-gallon bag and add the brine, or place the brisket in a large glass container with a lid and add the brine. Either way, you want the brisket to be completely submerged and surrounded with the brine. Add the beet juice or sauerkraut juice (if using) at this point once everything is cooled.
- Place in the fridge (put inside another dish if you just use the plastic bag in case it leaks) and leave it there for at least 3 days and 5 if possible. Each day, flip it over and move the brine around. After 3-5 days, remove from the brine, rinse with cool water and cook as you normally would a corned beef brisket (don't normally cook a corned beef brisket? Instructions coming soon...)
- The end!