I have finally found a source for really good corned beef. Miriam, however, feels that all corned beef is too salty to eat. I explored ways to “de-salt” my cured meat.
Note: A problem I had last year was that even though people were happy with the saltiness the corned beef, the condensed sauce was too salty to eat. I needed to find a way to remove the salt from the meat, so that it would not leach out and spoil the sauce.
My preferred corned beef is from Wellshire Farms. Instead of the bright pink of most corned beef, it is more brownish. In examining the label, I found that it is really “New England corned beef,” beef that has been processed without nitrates or nitrites.
Nearly all corned beef is meat—frequently brisket—that has been pickled in a brine of salt (1-2 cups), potassium nitrate (aka saltpeter) or sodium nitrite (aka pink curing salt/Prague Powder), sugar and spices for 5-10 days. The nitrate/nitrite prevents the development of botulism producing bacteria and gives the corned beef its distinctive pink color—it is not, as I thought, the result of red dye #5.
Note: There is a debate over the value of using nitrates/nitrites as a meat preservative. The question is whether a slight risk of stomach cancer it greater than the definite risk of food poisoning and the newly discovered health benefits of these chemicals. I do not like it in corned beef only because of the metallic taste it imparts to the meat in the quantities it is used in the pickling process. In reality, 80 % of the nitrates in your diet come from vegetables.
The outcomes of this pickling process is a very salty piece of meat. One reason for boiling corned beef with potatoes is that the spuds absorb a lot of the salt that is released by the meat. A more effective way to remove the salt is to soak the meat in fresh water for several hours.
A risk with this de-salting method—especially with nitrate/nitrite free beef—is the danger of botulism. With nitrated corn beef you may safely soak the meat for 72 hours. However, with New England corned beef, I would not recommend doing this for more than 12 hours in the refrigerator.
I usually rinse off any pickling spices that come with my commercial corn beef—as I consider them “spent.” Last year, I added only a few spices to “refresh” the flavor while cooking. This year, I looked at some other recipes for idea and pick a few more spices to add back into the mix.
Recipes are all over the map as far as how long you need to cook corned beef. The meat will be tender enough to chew in two hours, but if you want meltingly tender beef you need to give it longer. This year, I am trying 10 hours and starting the day before the meal.
Note: Once you have cooked your meat to tenderness, you may chill it and then reheat it just before your dinner. This allows you prepare your main dish the day before and to chill and de-fat the sauce. A second advantage of letting the meat go cold is that the corned beef is easier to slice.
I still do not like boiling everything together as “corned beef and cabbage.” Like last year, I am making colcannon—Irish cabbage and potatoes—as a side dish. Jan suggested that I make a Irish rice pudding for dessert.
Karl’s Corned Beef II
3-5 lb. Wellshire Farms corned beef
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. whole mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
10 whole cloves
5 whole allspice berries
2 tsp. black peppercorns, separate uses
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. thyme
1 can Guinness stout (14.9 fl. oz.)
½-¾ cup potato, peeled and chopped
1 green onion, top only, finely sliced
1. Rinse the corned beef well removing any old spices.
Note: Discard any brine.
2. Submerge the meat in a pan of cool water, cover, and refrigerate.
Tip: The idea here is to leach out as much salt as possible.
Note: A chemical, like salt, “wants” to distribute evenly throughout any solution that it is in—a piece of meat is simply a denser part of the liquid. When you brine something, there is more salt in the liquid than in the meat and the molecules pushes their way in to evenly distribute the salt. When you put a salty piece of meat into clear water you reverse the process. The salt escapes to the liquid that is less salty, “trying” to even things out.
3. Change the water every few hours and continue desalting as long as you have time.
Tip: Up to 72 for corned beef with nitrates/nitrites or 12 hours for New England corned beef.
4. Toast the coriander seeds, mustard seeds, cloves, and allspice berries in a small dry until fragrant, about one minute.
5. Put the spices in a mortar with one teaspoon of black peppercorns, crush them with the pestle, and set them aside.
Tip: You do not want to turn them into a fine powder, but just to break them up a bit.
Note: You will be adding the rest of the pepper just before serving your corned beef.
6. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven and sauté the onions, over a medium high heat, until just starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
Note: Normally I would add salt, at this point, to speed this process, but with corned beef I do not want to add any unnecessary salt.
7. Pull the onions to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center until fragrant, about one minute.
8. Sprinkle the ground spices, paprika, and thyme over the onions and cook stiring for 1-2 minutes to warm the spices.
9. Stir in the Guinness and bring the pot to a boil.
10. Pat the lean side of the corned beef dry with a paper towel and nestle it—fat cap down—into the pot.
11. Put the Dutch oven into the oven and broil on high for 25-30 minutes, until the lean side of the meat is well browned.
Tip: The meat should be 6-8 inched from the heating element.
Note: You could brown the meat in the Dutch oven before you sauté your onions. I find this difficult and messy, with a great risk of burns. It is much easier, neater, and safer to use the broiler to brown your meat and/or bones when you can.
12. Flip the meat over, turn the oven switch to bake, and reduce the heat to 275º F.
Note: Fat cap up.
13. Add most or all of the second can of Guinness.
Tip: You do not want the meat to be completely submerged. If necessary you may add the rest of the can later as the liquid level drops.
14. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes.
15. Flip the meat over again, cover the pot, and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
Tip: Fat cap down.
Note: At this point, you need to be very careful in handling your piece of meat. Use large spatulas to gently turn the meat over. If you try to pick it up with tongs if may shred into pieces.
16. Half way through the long baking time, turn the meat one final time, continue baking for as long as you can.
Tip: You want the meat to end up fat cap up.
Note: The minimum is about two hours. This year, I am trying 10 hours.
17. Transfer the corned beef to a plate and cover it in plastic wrap.
18. Refrigerate your meat until an hour before dinner.
Tip: You want your beef cold enough to easily slice across the grain without shredding, a minimum of one hour.
19. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let the fat float to the surface.
Tip: Remove any fat that you consider “excess,” while fat equals flavor, to each their own diet plan.
20. An hour before dinner, slice the cold corned beef and loosely wrap it in aluminum foil.
21. Set the wrapped beef in a 300º F oven until just before serving.
22. While the beef is reheating, put the sauce in a blender with the raw chopped potatoes and blend until smooth.
Note: The potatoes do two things, they both absorb any remaining “excess salt” and also thicken the sauce.
23. Transfer the sauce to a small pot and cook over a medium heat until it has thickened, about 10 minutes.
Tip: Do not over reduce the sauce. Even with the de-salting process, I found that sauce was just at the edge of being too salty before being cooked with the potatoes.
24. Open the foil packet and gently slide the corned beef onto a serving platter.
Tip: Carefully fan out the slices to make an attractive presentation.
Note: The beef is very breakable at this point, so be very careful in separating the slices.
25. Pour some of the sauce over the meat and garnish with the green onion.
Tip: Put the remaining gravy in a bowl, to be spooned over the meat as the dinners desire.
Note: The potatoes worked perfectly in soaking up the excess salt and thickening the gravy.