If you haven’t started curing your corned beef yet, what are you waiting for!?! Get out there and buy a brisket – posthaste! I’m not trying to be pushy here, but St. Patrick’s Day is a mere week away and you’re running out of time. Making corned beef is one of my favorite annual traditions. In fact, we always throw a St. Patrick’s Day dinner party (what, you didn’t get your invite? You should probably go ahead and invite yourself over).
Why corn your own beef, you might ask? Sure, you can buy one pre-corned at the store, but be forewarned: it will probably be obnoxiously salty. Sadly, there’s not enough Guinness in the world to make up for that. No, a good corned beef should be nuanced: slightly sweet, a touch salty, and drool-worthy in its savory-ness. It has the tiniest bit of funk from the pink salt and it’s juicy as all get-out. Flavor, that’s why you should cure your own. Not to mention the fun of finding room in your already overcrowded fridge for a whole brisket!
Before I go any further, let’s talk anatomy of a brisket. You see, brisket is composed of what’s called the “flat cut” and the “point.” If you find a flat cut for sale, you might be tempted to buy it. These cuts look so much less overwhelming than the whole brisket because they’re evenly shaped (hence, the name flat) and they’re leaner with much less fat. Then, there’s the “point.” In order to get this tasty piece, you need to buy the whole brisket. It looks funky, oddly-shaped, and it’s generally intimidating. But it’s so worth it! The “point” is where all the flavor is located: it’s capped in fat and marbled with even more fat within the meat.
If you find yourself totally disgusted with me, imagining that I’m suggesting you eat a forkful of fat, bear with me! Here’s the thing: fat is flavor. It melts as it cooks, flavoring and seasoning the meat while making it juicy and moist (yup, I said moist). Without it, you’ll have a dry piece of meat that cries out for love and affection. You can still eat the leaner pieces by carving off some of the excess fat. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll have a cardiologist on speed dial as you gleefully serve yourself the fattiest piece (no judgment, St. Patrick’s Day is only once a year, after all). To make a long story short, you can choose how lean you want it later, so I’d recommend opting for the whole brisket.
Next up, don’t be overwhelmed by the brisket’s size. You can find briskets from anywhere between 5 and 20 pounds, which might sound like a lot of commitment. But, you’re going to lose about 50 percent of that bad boy to water loss, so it’s not as bad as it seems. Figure your brisket will feed one person per uncooked pound, and then buy up a little bit if you’re hoping for leftovers.
You’ll also need to give yourself a little bit of time – remember how I chastised you earlier about this? The brisket needs anywhere from five days to a week on the cure, depending on how thick it is. If you don’t let it sit long enough, the curing salt won’t reach the center and your corned beef won’t be that continuous, stunning red color. If you don’t know where to start, there are some really great recipes out there. I would recommend Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polycn’s recipe from their book, “Charcuterie” (which, you should absolutely buy, but you can also find that recipe online).
Then, you just drain it, rinse it, and boil it with pickling spices. Yup, seriously, boil it. I know that sounds like some medieval way to cook a piece of meat, but the brisket can handle it. In about three hours, it will be ready to slice. Serve it same day with your St. Patrick’s Day feast (I’m thinking potatoes colcannon and Irish soda bread) and squirrel away about a pound for leftovers. I definitely have plans to make leftover corned beef hash, sandwiches with mustard on rye, and probably some Irish-style tacos (because who doesn’t love tacos?).
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].