For the longest while I have been intrigued by the idea of making my own corned beef but I figured it must take special equipment and a degree in meat preservation. After a bit of research into the topic, I happily discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make at home. Once you've made this I promise you will find it difficult to go back to the tinned stuff. The flavour is off the chart awesome. It is less salty, deeply spiced and tastes closer to a Christmas ham than corned beef from a tin. Once the beef starts to cook, the aroma alone makes the entire experience worthwhile.
Essentially corned beef is beef that has been preserved using salt. In times past, grains of salt were larger (about the size of corn kernels) and they were called corns of salt not grains, hence the term corned beef. Essentially there are two methods of preserving or corning beef, a dry cure and a wet cure. In the dry cure method the salt is rubbed into the meat to prevent spoiling. The wet-cure involves soaking the beef in brine.
Nowadays it is common to use a brisket or a round roast for corned beef but any cut of beef can be made into corned beef. The most daunting part of the whole process was accessing some of the ingredients which aren't readily available in the local supermarkets. Brisket is not a common cut that is sold here but the gentlemen of Bloom's Imports sorted me out. I see now that they also stock already brined briskets so if you aren't up for home curing your own you can always try one of those.
Homemade Corned Beef
The Pickling Spice Blend
2 tablespoons peppercorns mixed
2 tablespoons mustard seeds ( I used mustard powder)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons allspice berries (pimento)
2 tablespoons whole clove
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 stick of cinnamon
1 gallon water (16 cups)
2 cups kosher salt
1 teaspoon pink curing salt#1
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons pickling spice (above recipe)
one 5lb beef brisket
Make pickling spice:
Lightly toast the peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds in a small, dry frying pan. use a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a broad knife to crack the peppercorns. Combine the cracked peppercorns with the rest of the spices. Mix well and store in an airtight container.
Make the brine:
Combine water, salt, sugar, pink salt and 2 tablespoons of the pickling spices in a pot that is large enough to hold 16 cups of water comfortably. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until it is completely chilled.
Get a container that is large enough for the brisket and the brine. I used my crockpot but a large Rubbermaid container works well. Place the brisket in it. Add the brine and weigh brisket down with a plate so that it remains submerged. Refrigerate for 2 weeks.
Cook the beef:
Remove brisket from the brine and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water. If you plan on cooking vegetables with your corned beef you can reserve about 1/2 cup of the brine. Discard the rest. Place brisket in a crockpot. Add enough water to just cover the meat. Add the rest of the cooking spices and set to slow cook for 4 hours. Taste the meat at this point. If it is not too salty, set the timer and slow cook an additional 4 hours. However it it is too salty change the water. Add fresh water just to cover the meat and slow cook for 4 hours.
If you do not have a crockbot you can do this on your stovetop. In a pot that is large enough to hold the brine and the brisket add the remaining pickling spice and bring to a boil. reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 3 hours. At this point taste meat to check for salt content. If it is too your liking continue to simmer for an additional 3 hours or until meat is fork tender. If it is too salty pour off the water and add fresh water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for an additional 3 hours.
Remove brisket and serve warm with vegetables or use in sandwhiches. Store corned beef in the fridge for up to a week.
About pink curing salt:
Pink curing salt is also called Prague Powder #1. I purchased mine online. It goes by various brand names such as DQ curing salt, Tinted Cure, Morton's Tender Quick and Instacure. The nitrate in curing salts preserves the pink colour of the meat. You can omit it from the recipe since by itself the salt will safely preserve the meat but be aware that the curing salt is what makes the meat retain a pink colour. Without it the meat will be just as edible but it will look grey.
IMPORTANT: Do not use more than the suggested amount of pink salt because too much can be toxic. Store safely out of the reach of children who might mistake the pink candy like colour for sugar. Click here for more in depth information on curing salts.