Although I am a red-head, I am in no part Irish. Many people assume that I am but I am German through and through.
Not growing up in an Irish household, I don’t recall ever actually having homemade corned beef and cabbage. I have eaten corned beef on a sandwich from time-to-time but, given a choice, I’m a pastrami gal. I never really knew how either was made so when I discovered that corned beef was a fermented food, that was news to me. I suppose all corned beef isn’t necessarily fermented but the version I decided to try my hand at is (from Mary Karlin’s “Mastering Fermentation“) – due to the use of a whey brine and a day of being un-refrigerated before aging.
In spite of my lack of Celtic influences, back on the 16th of January, I decided to plan ahead for St Patrick’s Day and picked up a nice beef brisket to begin the brining, aging and curing process that would arrive at corned beef by the 17th of March.
It was simple enough. I mixed up Mary’s blend of cane sugar, sea salt, bay leaves, mustard seeds, juniper berries and peppercorns and then rubbed it all over the brisket. The meat then went into a large plastic zip-top bag along with enough of a whey and water mixture to cover the meat and sat at room temperature in a dark corner of the kitchen for 24 hours. After that, it hung out on the top shelf of the refrigerator for the duration. The only attention it required was an occasional flip a couple of times per week.
The harder part of the corned beef and cabbage quest was actually figuring out what to do with the slab of meat after the aging was complete. I had no clue how to cook it! Chuck and I had both heard that corned beef and cabbage was boiled so I went in search of some on-line advice from Alton Brown which I found in the form of a recipe he had posted back in 2007. Hundreds of readers had given it five stars over the years so that was good enough for us!
With a few subtle adjustments because I was starting with a fully aged brisket, I set to the boiling required to result in our St Patrick’s Day feast. After about three hours, our lovely brisket was ready to carve and serve.
In many ways, corned beef is an Irish version of the German sauerbraten…something with which I am a bit more familiar. I also learned that pastrami, a brisket technique with Romanian heritage, starts out life the same as a corned beef. Pastrami simply takes it one step further by peppering and smoking, rather than boiling, a fully aged corned beef to finish it.
Now that I have my first corned beef under my belt, will I do it again? Yep, most likely. The flavor was great. The texture was tender. The process, while lengthy, was quite simple. All I really have to remember is to start early so we’re ready when March 17th rolls around again next year!