Corned Beef, the meat lover’s pickle

Or maybe it’s the pickle lover’s meat?

I’m currently brining a corned beef. It’s very hard work; I dick around on the computer and play a bit of guitar, and meanwhile the hunk of meat sits in the fridge for a few days. Very arduous. What makes it hard work is the waiting. Waiting, and hoping it turns out tasty. Only five more days of holding my breath.

I will admit now that I actually have my doubts about the tastiness. I did not fully educate myself on the various German cuts of beef (which are different from American cuts) before heading to the market.  So, instead of brisket, I ended up with something called “falsches filet” notable for being lean i.e. totally lame. I also stopped trying to find saltpetre, and therefore my corned beef won’t be the characteristic pink.

I’m going to try to stop fussing about it.

In the end, instead of the recommended 5-lb brisket, I bought a 1.7 kg slab of shoulder.

I consulted two recipes for corned beef and adjusted the brine to my liking. I liked the idea of brown sugar instead of white, and so I kept the sugar to salt ratio a bit high. One recipe used 20% salt brine, but added a day of soaking in plain water at the end. I opted for the lower salt version. Lastly, I selected my favourite pickling spices from the two recipes. One recipe mentioned a distaste for bay leaves entirely and the other called for four, so I used two.

I made my brine in these proportions:

  • 4 litres of water
  • 500 gm of sea salt (2 scant cups)
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves
  • few springs of thyme

I brought the brine to a simmer and stirred to be sure the last of the salt and sugar was dissolved. Note: four litres of 10% salt water takes sort of a long time to come to a simmer. As I was waiting it out, I noted too late that one of the recipes suggested using half the water to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then mixing the second half in afterwards. Adding the second half ice cold also speeds the cooling.

The brine has to be  cooled, and then chilled in the fridge before using. I chilled mine overnight.

This morning I placed the meat in my largest glass bowl (which holds five litres) and poured on as much of the brine as would fit: three litres. It is filled almost to the brim. The bottom shelf of my fridge is uneven, and I am a bit concerned about a big salty accident.

Important: I am using a shallow bowl to weight the beef down. Otherwise, it floats, and all the recipes strongly strongly tell you to weight it down so nothing is exposed to air.

The extra litre is in the fridge to use as a top up, should that be required. Since it has not made contact with the meat, I may add it later to the cooking liquid. I will leave it until Sunday morning (5 whole days) and then I’ll be cooking it, and serving it at a picnic.

To be continued …

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