If you’ve never made a REAL homemade corned beef, now’s your chance. Corned Beef From Scratch is easier than you think and perfect for your traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal.
Corned beef and cabbage is arguably THE traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal and one that my family enjoyed every March 17th. So you’d think I’d have a few corned beef options for you on this site, but when I looked back through my “St. Paddy’s” posts — it was shamefully lacking — and I know why. It’s kind of a no-brainer… you buy the package of bright red beef at the market,(WHAT IS CORNED BEEF MADE OF?) stick it in your crock pot with vegetables and that special “pickling packet” and let it simmer until the beef and vegetables are tender. That’s when I realized — I’d never made corned beef from scratch. Until now.
What Part Of The Cow Is Corned Beef?
To be honest, I don’t think I could have even named the cut of meat that corned beef came from. It was just this weird looking (and smelling) two to four pound magenta-hued chunk that was cryovacked in a plastic pouch. I turned to one of my latest cookbooks, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, to debunk the mystery. Turns out that corned beef is made from a beef brisket. Who knew? Oh, you did? Well, la-dee-daa Ms. smarty-pants.
If you’ve ever wondered how to corn beef, I think you’ll be surprised at how straightforward it is. Essentially, you make a brine (ok, you make a lot of brine) and soak the meat for 5 days in the fridge. The corn beef brine consists of salt (Morton’s Kosher salt — do not use Crystal because the weight and flake size are different and it would be very easy to oversalt the meat) sugar, garlic, pickling spice and prague powder.
What Is Prague Powder?
- Prague powder is a curing mixture of 93.75% table salt and 6.25% sodium nitrate.
- Salt acts as a preservative and through the process of osmosis, it not only pulls the water out of the cells of the meat it also pulls out any bacteria and kills it.
- Sodium nitrate prevents the growth of bacteria, so this double whammy will keep this traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat, a safe meal to enjoy.
- Prague powder is also known as curing salt, pink salt, tinted curing mixture, TCM or tint cure.
- The pink coloring is added so that it won’t be confused with table salt, but that color is also responsible for giving our corned beef it’s distinctive hue.
To make the brine, pull out a large stock pot and combine all the ingredients, right down to the pickling spice. Simmer on the stove until the salt and sugar are dissolved and let it cool to room temperature. Then chill it in the refrigerator. When the brine is cold, you’re ready to begin the brining process.
Probably the most difficult part is finding a receptacle large enough to hold the gallon of brining liquid and the five pound beef brisket. I pulled out all of my containers, pots, tupperware — YOU NAME IT, but they were all insufficient. So I made an investment at a restaurant supply house — This plastic container with lid holds 12 quarts. Plenty of room for brining my brisket — or a turkey, or ham… Don’t worry, it’s gonna get used. Place the brisket in the container and add the brine. Seal it up and refrigerate for 5 days…
So this is where I made my mistake — but I’m warning you in advance. When you actually cook the corned beef, instead of sprinkling the pickling spice over the meat, place it in a piece of cheesecloth, and tie it into a secure bundle with kitchen string… That way you won’t have to strain the liquid and pick out errant peppercorns stuck to the brisket.
Add the vegetables after the brisket has already simmered for several hours, so they become tender, but not mushy.
At this point, I had to strain the liquid — several times and pull peppercorn and spices out of the folds of the cabbage, etc., but if you make that spice bundle, you can avoid that hassle.
Slice the beef into slices about 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick across the grain.
Serve in shallow bowls with vegetables and a bit of the broth spooned over the top. Ta-da. Corned Beef From Scratch. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Corned Beef From Scratch
Skip the packages of corned beef and make your own from scratch. You just need some space in your fridge and a little patience. Corned Beef From Scratch will ruin you for the store bought stuff.
For The Brine:
- 2 cups Morton's kosher salt
- 1 gallon water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice
- 4 teaspoons pink curing salt (prague powder)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
For The Corned Beef:
- 1 5 pound beef brisket
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice
- 1 6-inch square piece of cheesecloth
- 6-inch piece of kitchen string
For Corned Beef and Cabbage:
- 1/2 pound small red potatoes
- 1 head cabbage cut into eighths, vertically through the core
- 1 large onion peeled and sliced vertically, root to tip in 1/2" strips
Brine The Beef:
In a large pot, combine all the ingredients for the brine and simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate several hours until cold.
Place the brisket in a pot or receptacle large enough to hold both the brine and the meat. (I purchased an industrial restaurant container with a 12 quart capacity -- and it filled it about half way up). Pour the chilled brine over the meat and refrigerate for 5 days. If the meat isn't completely submerged in the brine, place a plate on top of it to push it into the liquid. Flip the meat every day or so.
Cook The Beef:
Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Discard the brining solution.
Place the brisket in a large, heavy pot or dutch oven and cover with cool water.
Place the pickling spice in the center of the cheesecloth, bring the ends together in a bundle and secure it tightly with the kitchen string. Add the pickling spice to the pot. Bring the pot just to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover with the lid slightly askew. Cook for 3 hours or until beef is very tender.
Remove the pickling spice bundle from the pot and discard. Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board and slice thinly to serve.
For Corned Beef and Cabbage
To make the corned beef with cabbage and vegetables -- proceed with cooking the corned beef as described above, but only simmer the meat for 2 hours and 15 minutes -- then add the vegetables to the pot and continue the simmer with the lid tightly secured for an additional 45 minutes or until vegetables are very tender.
Remove the pickling spice bundle. Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board and slice thinly. Arrange a few slices of meat in a shallow bowl adding potatoes, carrots and a wedge of cabbage. Spoon the liquid over the beef and vegetables to serve.
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