Although the exact beginnings of corned beef have been lost to history, it most likely came about when people began preserving meat through salt-curing. Evidence of its legacy is apparent in numerous cultures, including Ancient Europe, and the Middle East. The word corn derives from Old English, which is used to describe any small hard particles or grains. In the case of “corned beef”, the word refers to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef. Corning can be used interchangeably in modernity to refer to three distinct types of cured beef:
- Wet-cured in spiced brine products are more supple and tender due to the brining, and in modern times, is usually made from brisket or round steak. (This is the method we will be using)
- Dry-cured with granular salt beef is much drier and firmer in texture, even after rehydration, and can be made from various cuts of beef.
- Canned minced salted meat is ground salted beef that is crumbly and oily, and made from various portions of beef.
The appearance of corned beef in Irish cuisine dates to the 12th century in the poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne or The Vision of MacConglinne. Within the text, it is described as a delicacy a king uses to purge himself of the “demon of gluttony”.
Cattle, valued as a bartering tool, were only eaten when no longer able to work or provide milk. The corned beef as described in this text was a rare and valued dish, given the value and position of cattle within the culture, as well as the expense of salt.
So know that we know a little history of corned beef; how do we make it?
Corning the beef brisket–1 (4 to 5 lb) beef brisket 2 quarts of water 1 C coarse kosher salt 1/2 C light brown sugar
Place the water into a large stockpot along with salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. The aromatic fragrance of the spices is simply amazing.
Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. After sealing the bag, place in a container making sure the brisket is completely covered by the brine, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 days (I like to do 15 days). Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. If you don’t have a huge zip top bag, brine the brisket in a large tupperware container and make sure to flip the brisket each day to make sure that all of the brisket comes in contact with the brine.
Cooking the Beef Brisket
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
After 12 to 15 days, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender.
1 hour before meat is ready add carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes and cabbage to pot; cook until tender.
Remove meat from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.
Most commercially produced corned beef contains Salt Peter (Potassium Nitrate) as a preservative. It also helps the meat retain it’s “natural” red color after being cooked.This Recipe was adapted from Alton Brown’s