A traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner is a must in our house around this time of year and I usually purchase a corned beef brisket from my supermarket. They use a nitrite-free cure and the results are very good. But this year I thought I'd try my hand at making corned beef. I'm pleased to report that my corned beef and cabbage dinner was so good that this is likely to become an annual ritual. It takes a little time (I cured my beef for six days), but there is minimal effort involved. Once the cure is applied, the meat rests in the refrigerator, and you just need to turn it once a day. I used the dry cure method, with a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. Then I cooked the brisket in simmering water, with additional aromatics until it was tender. The accompanying vegetables were also simmered in the cooking broth, and the whole meal was served with a creamy horseradish-mustard sauce and a glass of Guinness. Now we're looking forward to the leftovers: corned beef hash, reuben sandwiches, so many possibilities...
Homemade Corned Beef
(about 8 servings, and hopefully some leftovers)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3/4 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 tablespoon paprika
2 bay leaves, crumbled
beef brisket (4 to 6 pounds)
2 tablespoons pickling spice
2 to 3 small boiling onions
4 garlic cloves
additional vegetables to serve with the corned beef: potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, rutabaga, parsnips, brussels sprouts, as you prefer.
Horseradish-Mustard Sauce (see below)*
Coarsely crush the peppercorns in a mortar or with the edge of a heavy skillet. Combine the peppercorns with the salt, allspice, thyme leaves, paprika, and bay leaves in a small bowl. Rinse and dry the brisket then pierce it on both sides with a meat fork or skewer (about 30 times per side). This will allow the cure to penetrate more thoroughly. Rub the salt mixture evenly over both sides of the meat, using all of it. Transfer the brisket to a 2 gallon plastic storage or freezer bag, force out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Place the brisket on a large baking sheet, cover with a similar-sized baking sheet, and weigh the meat down with heavy cans or a case or two of Guinness. Allow to cure in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, turning once a day. When ready to prepare your corned beef dinner, remove the beef from the bag and rinse it well. Place in a large stock pot or Dutch oven and add water to just cover the meat. Add the pickling spice, onions, and garlic to the pot and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook the brisket for 2 to 3 hours, until tender (a fork should penetrate the meat without resistance). Preheat the oven to 200F. Place the brisket on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan and ladle some of the cooking broth over top. Cover the meat tightly with foil and let rest in the warm oven while you prepare the vegetables. Strain the cooking broth and bring to a simmer in a large saucepan. Add your chosen vegetables and simmer until tender. (Cut the vegetables into even-sized pieces in order that they cook at the same rate). Cabbage wedges will cook most quickly and should be added last. When the vegetables are about done, take the brisket from the oven and carve thinly across the grain. Serve meat and vegetables together on a large platter, moistened with some of the cooking broth, and offer the horseradish-mustard sauce alongside.
(adapted from "Cook's Illustrated")
(makes about a 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons of prepared horseradish
1 generous teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard.
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, adjusting the amounts of horseradish and mustard to your taste, cover tightly and refrigerate until needed.