Some number of years ago (we don’t actually remember how long ago it was; we just know that it was in the “before times,” when we didn’t have kids yet), Austin and I were eating corned beef in an Irish bar in Santa Barbara, and we had a realization: Corned beef is so good! It’s really flavorful and delicious, but it’s also incredibly easy to prepare. And it’s a great use for brisket, which is one of my favorite slow-cooking cuts. “Why don’t we make this all the time?” Austin asked. We couldn’t come up with a reason.
So now, in our family, we don’t just reserve corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day; we also make it throughout the year. It’s great for dinner with red potatoes and cabbage (very traditional), but you can also use the meat in sandwiches, like a classic reuben. You can even pull it apart, to give it the texture of pulled pork, and serve it on buns or cook it into a hash. Often we’ll make enough to have a bunch of meals and just enjoy the meat in all its great forms. (I also usually make two briskets at once, so that I can give one to my parents.)
While the idea of corning your own beef might seem intimidating, the actual process couldn’t be any simpler. In fact, I do every step in one big stockpot. The key is to use plenty of salt (“corning” the meat is essentially just salt-curing it in a brine) and to use lots of seasonings—sometimes I feel like I’m using every spice in my pantry that comes in a seed form, and then some more for good measure. Once your beef is properly brined, you boil it until it’s falling-apart tender. Here’s how I do it:
Homemade Corned Beef
(Makes 2 briskets’ worth of corned beef)
For Brining the Beef
- 3 cups Morton’s Kosher salt
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 3 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 20 whole cloves
- 20 allspice berries
- 20 juniper berries
- 20 coriander seeds
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- 2 4-lb briskets
- 2 lbs ice
For Cooking the Beef
- 4 celery ribs, roughly chopped
- 4 carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
1 - 2 Weeks Ahead of Time:
In a large stockpot, combine the salt and the sugar with 9 quarts of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it bubble until the salt and sugar have dissolved and you can see to the bottom of the pot. Add the seasonings, then remove the pot from the heat, and let it cool to room temperature (either on the counter or in the refrigerator).
When the brine has cooled completely, add the ice, then submerge the briskets in the liquid, and use a plate or a can to hold them underwater; it’s important for them to stay completely submerged. Let them “corn” for anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks.
When the Meat has Cured:
Remove the pot from the refrigerator, remove the meat from the pot, and pour off all but 2 quarts of the brine. (Remove the cinnamon sticks from the pot as well; the other seasonings can stay in the remaining brine.) Rinse the meat with cold water, then put it back into the pot with the reserved brine and fill with enough fresh water to cover the briskets by an inch. (Make sure that the meat is fully submerged.) Add the celery, carrot, onion, and bay leaf to the pot.
Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil, and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Lower the heat until the liquid is just simmering, cover the pot, and cook the brisket very slowly until it falls apart when you stick a fork in it, about 3 hours (possibly longer). When the meat has cooked, you remove it from the liquid. To serve, slice the meat across the grain or shred it for sandwiches (or both!)
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Photos by Elizabeth Poett